The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Can the Steelers afford to settle on Robert Golden as one of their starting safeties in 2016?
While the name Eric Weddle has been on the minds of Steelers fans for literally years now, reports are that the team never even submitted the former unrestricted free agent a formal contract offer before he chose to sign for the division-rival Ravens yesterday. So for those who dreamed of that union, Pittsburgh never even really put their hat in the ring.
They did throw a sliver of their weight behind four-year veteran Robert Golden, whom they originally signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft, and he has been on the 53-man roster since then, spending the past two seasons as their special teams captain, and last year becoming a defensive contributor.
Golden spent some time in the season opener as a quarters safety, though communication errors bogged down that strategy and it was abandoned until late in the season. He did spend a four-game stint as the primary starting safety when Will Allen was injured eight snaps into a game.
During that span, the 5’11” safety acquitted himself well in the starting lineup, with many holding the belief that, given his play, and the play of Allen prior to his injury, it merited giving Golden the opportunity to hold on to the starting position, but that was not the direction the Steelers took.
He did return to the defensive side of the ball after that, however, with the Steelers returning to the quarters package in obvious passing situations late in the year, often spending time close to the line or covering tight ends or wide receivers out of the slot.
While he might not have a great deal of tape down on his defensive abilities yet, I do believe that, should it become necessary, the Steelers could rely upon Golden to start this season and expect him to contribute at a competent level that would not weaken the secondary.
He is, for starters, a player that is already well-versed in the team’s system, and is also an intelligent mind as far as being able to understand and execute the schemes and coverages that the Steelers want to run. He has decent size, speed, and athleticism to perform both deep in coverage and at the line, both against the pass and the run, and he has even show a bit of blitzing ability. He may not be a Pro Bowler, but he is somebody who shouldn’t be noticed for negative reasons too frequently.