Training camp is fast approaching now, and soon the offseason chatter will begin to fall always, but I would like to draw attention to an article back in April, in which former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark talked to Chris Bradford for the Beaver County Times, in which he talks about the team’s recent history of drafting defensive backs.
According to Clark—a former undrafted free agent himself who eventually worked his way up to being a Pro Bowler—he sees the bigger issue not in terms of identifying defensive back talent during the buildup to the draft process, but rather in sufficiently developing that talent after the fact.
I already know what is going on in the comments section, and who is about to leave a comment on this topic and which side they will come down on, because we’ve already done this dance a time or two, but suffice it to say that I lean more toward the belief that the talent level brought in has been a bigger issue recently than has the development.
I will not regurgitate the argument to great length, but I will remind that none of the Steelers’ defensive back draft picks that they have released have ever gone one to find much of any success elsewhere in the league. You would think by now that one of them would have. It should also not be ignored that Clark played some of the best ball of his career, and went to the Pro Bowl, under Carnell Lake.
With all that said, however, the now-retired media analyst did point to Lake as well as Mike Tomlin when it comes to the developmental front, saying that “that was a Mike Tomlin strength, actually identifying those guys, but it’s different when you’re the head guy, when you’re the guy identifying them and also training them”, he told Bradford.
Clark then pointed toward Lake, under whom he wrapped up his tenure with the Steelers, saying that “he’s really going to have to look at the way he utilizes guys, the way he develops guys, because these guys coming out can actually play football”.
He went on, saying, “it’s about getting them integrated into a system where it’s very important that you’re a very sound football player. I think these guys have been talented, they just need to figure out ways to develop them and let them come along and learn to be like Ike Taylor, learn to be like William Gay, learn to be like some of these guys we’ve seen in the program”.
“Everything seems so rushed like they have to have it immediately these days but sometimes you may need to wait”, he said. To that end, you may point to fifth-round pick Terry Hawthorne failing to even make the practice squad as a rookie, and Shaquille Richardson being released from the practice squad his rookie year. Even fourth-rounder Doran Grant was released, re-signed to the practice squad, and spent the first half of his rookie season there.
The Steelers have spent three premium draft picks on the secondary in the past two seasons, so we should know more perhaps by the end of the 2017 season about where the issues lie most: in talent identification, or in development.