Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II did his usual post-season media rounds recently, and he certainly gave us all plenty to chew on. We have already dissected much of what he had to say, but there was one thing in particular—an admission of sorts—that I think is notable enough to re-emphasize.
Rooney spent a good deal of time talking about the defensive backfield, which should be no surprise given the consideration that it was both visually and statistically the area of greatest concern on either side of the ball, with the defense ranking near the very top in terms of receiving yards and receiving touchdowns allowed.
While he noted that the pass defense made some strides in certain areas, such as greatly improving the overall sack production and adding more turnovers than in the last several seasons, both of which are certainly more than welcome developments, but he also acknowledged that those statistics don’t paint the full picture.
He also acknowledged, in his own words, “we’ve made some mistakes, there’s no denying that in terms of some of the evaluations”, which is a statement that will no doubt feed into the already very agreeable readership of this site, as well as its authors, who have been critical of the team’s evaluation process when it comes to the secondary, and the cornerback position in particular.
Realistically, it is likely those personnel and scouting evaluations that are holding the Steelers back more than anything that is in their power to control. The decision-making as it pertains to piecing together their secondary has been the team’s Achilles’ heel, to be sure.
Of course it all largely goes back to choosing to value the potential of Cortez Allen over Keenan Lewis and allowing the latter to walk in free agency, while Allen has fallen on his face in his attempt to become a full-time starter for three straight seasons, playing just one game last year.
Since entering the starting lineup, Allen has only played in 26 games in the past three seasons, making just eight starts. He was bumped from the starting lineup three times and benched entirely twice, both coming in the past two seasons, before ending each on injured reserve.
In the meantime, the Steelers have largely ignored the position early in the draft, which would be fine if they were able to hit on some of their late-round draft picks, which have often not even made the 53-man roster—or the practice squad.
Among the failed names in recent years are fifth-rounders Terry Hawthorne and Shaquille Richardson, the latter a player that defensive backs coach Carnell Lake himself recruited while he was coaching at UCLA.
While the jury is still out on last year’s second-round draft pick, Senquez Golson, the pick was already much-maligned in spite of his 10 interceptions in his final collegiate season as a cornerback drafted too early, given his under 5’9” frame.
To the pro scouting department’s credit, the Steelers were able to pick up Ross Cockrell this past season. Antwon Blake’s pickup a few years ago would look better today had they not had him playing injured all this past season, but in the right pecking order, he would look like more of a positive than a negative as well.
Taking in the whole picture, however, it’s clear that their evaluations at the position—not forgetting Shamarko Thomas—have been poor, and must improve. They claimed last offseason that the secondary would be a focus, and have done so again this year, but only time will tell. They may throw numbers, or even money, at the problem, but whether or not it gets fixed will be determined on the field.