The Optimist’s Take: Cornerbacks Against The Run

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: Are the Steelers equipped with an adequate group of cornerbacks who are capable of holding their end in the run game?

One of the defining traits that has largely epitomized the idea of the ‘Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback’ for the better part of the modern era of the team has been one that is a football player first, and a coverage athlete second.

That is a bit of an elaborate way of saying that the scouting department has long prioritized a cornerback’s ability and awareness against the run and in containment when it comes to evaluating the position, which at times results in them looking at some different players than other team’s might prioritize.

Rod Woodson would of course be the quintessential example of the Steelers cornerback in the mold of Mel Blount, but the most recent example would be Ike Taylor. William Gay very much works to maintain that legacy, and does a very good job of it, even if his size can at times limit him.

On the opposite side of Gay, at least currently, based on practice observations, is the only other cornerback who logged meaningful snaps last year who is still on the roster, that being Ross Cockrell. In spite of his six-foot height, he has been a bit of a slim player and has been criticized for his lack of physicality.

While he certainly had his lapses against the run last season, I do believe that he did a largely capable job considering the circumstances, having had little prior experience either playing or in the Steelers’ system. His season was no doubt quite a blur.

More importantly, he has made the necessary observation that he needed to put on some pounds, and reportedly has done that in a manner that his visible, which is certainly a positive sign. Senquez Golson is also said to have added weight, as he figures to be the team’s starting nickel cornerback.

Another nickel option this year could be safety Sean Davis, who has been running at that spot behind Golson in practice. He certainly put up the tackle numbers during his college career to support the argument that he is willing and able to support the run.

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