Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp a bit under a month from now, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2015 to 2016, which seems to be increasingly common for them in recent years.
I’m quite certain that we well all lament the great absence that will be felt at left cornerback with the free agency departure of fifth-year cornerback Antwon Blake, who was the team’s primary left cornerback last year, but moved to the right side often in the nickel defense, which proved to be the Steelers’ base package throughout the year.
It had not been the intention that Blake should start, at least in the 3-4 alignment, as Cortez Allen was supposed to be a starter, but Allen was reduced to the role of nickel corner by the opener, and ultimately lost even that job to injury.
Blake was then assured for the majority of the season that the job would be his, in spite of his physical struggles, and struggles he had. He played the season through a hand injury that he had occasionally wrapped, and I’m also convinced that he had a lingering shoulder injury at some point of the season.
He had a couple of other injuries during the season as well, but it was the aforementioned that regularly made him look daft in his tackling attempts where once he was a willing and able tackler, which resulted in him leading all defensive backs in missed tackles during the year. He also gave up the most passes for the most yards in the league, facing the highest number of targets.
The Titans were willing to give him a couple million on a one-year deal, and the Steelers were willing to let him walk for that price, in spite of the fact that they heavily lack for experience. William Gay will man one starting spot, and presumably Ross Cockrell, the only other cornerback to take a meaningful snap, will start on the other end.
The promise of the young Artie Burns and Senquez Golson wait in the wings, and Dorant Grant is not to be forgotten, but the cornerback position as a whole is largely unsettled at the moment and to be determined in training camp, with so many new an inexperienced faces to churn through.