Yesterday, Kevin Colbert made a comment – and waves – about his litmus test when he judges a cornerback, based on whether or not he could cover Antonio Brown, the league’s best receiver. We joked about it, given its next-to-impossible nature. But it’s important to understand the context of his comments. Here is what Colbert said.
“There are bigger receivers, and so you want guys who can match up physically. But we always try to evaluate a cornerback with, ‘Could he cover Antonio Brown?’ So size is not necessary to cover Antonio Brown, but superior athletic ability and skill is what’s required. That’s the standard we try to use. Could this guy cover Antonio?”
Hearing it all, if you haven’t already, should make more sense and not compel you to put Colbert in the loony bin. It was hyperbole to make the overall point that corners are required to have the change of direction ability to match up against a player of Brown’s skillset. This wasn’t a literal question to corners, though maybe if they want to have a little bit of fun in the interview they’ll pose it, but answers part of the team’s own self-evaluation. Because if the answer is “yes,” then you’ve found a cornerback with the skillset to succeed.
It again highlights a philosophical difference in what the Steelers see versus league-wide trends. While teams are beginning to covet long, tall corners who can press, Pittsburgh is focusing on explosion and change of direction. Maybe it’s stubborn, I’m sure several will make the argument for that, though I can see the value. It’s certainly shown through the makeup of the roster.
Only Cortez Allen, who played all of one game, was over six feet with Ross Cockrell at a cool six-foot even. The team played Antwon Blake (5’9 2/8) traded for Brandon Boykin (5’9 1/2) and drafted Senquez Golson (5’8 5/8). There’s a continued preference for smaller, shiftier players, and as Mike Tomlin and Colbert announced last year, a desire for playmakers with gaudy interception numbers.
Again, it allows the Steelers to possibly avoid taking a cornerback high, not having to worry about hoping on the bandwagon and getting ahead. It may be frustrating to fans to see “undersized” – and if I may, the qualifications for being undersized are ludicrous – but, as one reader put it very well the other day, size was rarely the issue for Steelers’ corners.
So tucked away in the headline-grabbing part of Colbert’s comments, is a nugget of information telling you exactly what they value most in cornerbacks. And if you know their system well, the answer shouldn’t surprise you.