The Pittsburgh Steelers are congratulating themselves over having addressed their pressing secondary needs in a major way after they added both a cornerback and a safety within the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, which is something that team president Art Rooney II described as one of their priorities this offseason.
In doing so, they are also counting on sixth-year defensive backs coach—and former Steelers safety and cornerback—Carnell Lake to coach them up and quickly turn them into defensive contributors that should not long after have the capability of starting on a championship-worthy defensive unit.
This is something that many fans of the team have been rather vocal about, and there have been more than a few who have even called for the firing of Lake, believing that he has proven that he does not have a sufficient ability to develop talent in the secondary.
The counterargument to this has always been that the Steelers have not really done much to address the secondary in a major way, with the majority of defensive back additions during Lake’s first four years in Pittsburgh coming primarily through mid- to late-round draft picks.
In addition to the fact that the team had not given him many players with much pedigree to develop, it had also been pointed out—certainly by myself as well as many others—that the players that the Steelers drafted and failed to succeed in Pittsburgh also failed to succeed everywhere else. The thinking is, were it simply a matter of developing talent, then at least one of those players would have been developed and found success elsewhere.
That has yet to be the case, with the biggest disappointment thus far being the third-round selection of Curtis Brown during Lake’s first season with the team in 2011. It seemed for a while that the fourth-round addition of Cortez Allen would have balanced that out, but he failed to develop in to the starter that the team believed he would after some initial success.
We have not much heard the names of players such as Terry Hawthorne, Crezdon Butler, or Shaquille Richardson either, all fifth-round draft picks, where the team did once find William Gay nearly a decade ago as he enters his 10th season.
The excuses have been made for Lake, but now he seemingly has a secondary stocked with talent, infusing three new defensive backs into the mix in 2016 that were drafted in the top two rounds with the additions of cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis this season, and cornerback Senquez Golson last season, who spent the entirety of his rookie season on injured reserve. Throw in the fourth-round addition of Doran Grant for good measure.
Add in free agent signings in former second-round safety Mike Mitchell and former fourth-round cornerback Ross Cockrell, and Lake has as much pedigree in the secondary to work with as they have had in a good while, perhaps since he was in the secondary. If he fails to develop these players into a talented group, then there will be no more excuses.