Look, I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. You’re not. We’ve all plainly pointed the struggles Antwon Blake has experienced this season.
But as hard as you – we – have been on him all season, you have to give credit and respect his play on Saturday. He wasn’t matched up exclusively on A.J. Green, the Steelers’ cornerbacks play sides, not people, but was often faced him throughout the game. Green was held in check, barely even noticed in the first half, and the two biggest plays he had came against William Gay and Mike Mitchell.
If that was Blake, fans would’ve destroyed him. But it was Gay so we sort of shrugged and chugged on.
And I get why. Gay has been fantastic this year and gets a longer leash (plus the intricacies of the zone breakdown that occurred on the play make it harder to assign blame).
But it shows the focused condemnation, and at the extreme, a hatred sent Blake’s way. This had to have been the toughest year of his football career. An injury that led to poor play, shown on the big stage for all to observe. Don’t think he didn’t notice it either. We’ve already seen Ryan Shazier finally break, taking to Twitter to fire back at fans. I guarantee not a day went by where Blake heard just how awful he was.
He’s undersized. Undrafted. Everything has worked against him since he began his NFL journey. All converging to create a mentally tough player. You can see it in his game. It’s no secret – he got picked on this year. Say what you want, but the one thing you can’t say is that he ever quit. That in itself doesn’t make for a great, or even good, player. Rocky was tough but he still lost in the first movie.
That toughness, that famous short-term memory needed, is what we can confidently say Blake has in spades. It’s arguably the biggest reason why Mike Tomlin is such a fan. Blake is scrappy, hyper-competitive, and someone I’ve long compared to your as little brother who might not match up in size, but keeps sticking around to the point where it nearly annoys you. There is a certain swagger and bravado that is required for the position, even when it’s only seen internally. If you don’t have that, it’s impossible to play corner.
Not only would I not mind to see Blake back in 2016, he’s set to be a free agent, I would advocate for his return. He’ll have the offseason to get healthy, and we’ve already seen a more physical and healthier Blake over the last two weeks. It’s no surprise that his play is trending up.
He’s the kind of guy I want in my locker room. The one whose nature makes everyone better around you. Someone you know what you’re going to get from: the grind of the NFL isn’t going to get him down. Not as a bonafide starter but a quality depth piece and strong special teamer. It makes his fit a little tougher – he has functioned as a base corner the last two seasons – but with a guy like that, he’ll work hard to carve out a role.
There has been no easier low-hanging fruit than Blake’s play this year. I’ve seen every negative thing imaginable said about him. It’s a testament for his unwavering confidence and mental fortitude to hang in there all season, not check out, and keep making plays. He’s no Hall of Famer. But a guy I’d go to war with.