In less than two weeks, we’ll be at training camp, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90 man roster roll through 14 practices and four games. There will be so much to learn, tons of things going on, so I want to lay out some of my expectations and hopes for each player before things start up and, frankly, all this speculation becomes irrelevant.
Moving onto the cornerbacks today.
William Gay – He’s the veteran of the group. Steady, a leader, and never misses a practice. Really not much to see from him in a skills perspective. But like most of these cornerbacks, I’m wondering if he’ll line up in the slot or stay outside in sub-packages.
Ross Cockrell – He’s expected to be a base cornerback this year and that means he’ll have to make a bigger impact in the run game. Want to see him stronger, more aggressive, and ultimately, more physical. We know he’s staying on the outside but he even split time pretty good on the left and right side last season. So we’ll have to see where the team wants him to line up this year.
Senquez Golson – His next training camp snap will be his first so that alone is exciting to see. Want to see him begin the year healthy, avoiding PUP, which I *think* he will. Like so many of these guys, it’s unclear where he’ll be lining up. He played outside at Ole Miss but my guess is that he would’ve been playing in the slot last year.
Beyond the basics, I want to see how he deals with playing against big, fast receivers like Darrius Heyward-Bey. Is he able to stay in phase when pressing or does the receiver blow through the gate? How does he time his jumps? Does he lose vision on the receiver and gives up separation on the catch point? How does he function against the run? So many questions.
Artie Burns – I think he’ll look good in one-on-ones. He’s long, tons of speed, and above average ball skills. When he’s able to focus on just the receiver and play close to the line, he should handle himself well. But how does he handle off man and zone coverage? And when the team goes into 11 on 11 and there are so many other pieces to account for. That’s all just as important.
Cornerback is such a mental position. Burns, like any rookie, like any player in this league, is going to have his bad days. It’s all about how you show the ability to bounce back. Based off his backstory, we figure he’s a tough guy, but I want to see him avoid stacking bad plays.
Doran Grant – Grant had a decent camp last year. His route recognition was probably my favorite thing from him. So looking for him to be even better there, especially when you figure he’s going to see a lot of his time with the second and third team. Rookies and other young guys.
But his path to play time will come on special teams. Can he earn a starting gunner role? The job is certainly open.
Donald Washington – The Steelers decided to sign him for a reason but does he still exhibit that athleticism that got him drafted in 2009? Does he still have 45 inch hops? He could make some fun plays in camp. Run defense is always important so let’s see if he can get his nose dirty, too.
Montell Garner – Garner briefly became a blip on the radar in the spring after Bob Labriola reported he picked off multiple passes. He’ll have to showcase those ballhawk skills in camp to get noticed. Be someone the team can’t cut.
*Stephen A Smith voice*
However, keep in ind Kevin Fogg led the Steelers with five training camp interceptions and was still cut outright. Making plays in practice is one thing. Doing it in games is quite another.
Al-Hajj Shabazz: My goal is to make sure I don’t tweet his name wrong. My personal mission aside, Shabazz does offer nice size (6’1 200) and I want to see him be physical in press coverage. You know those plays will be in the playbook this year as the team transitions to some more press looks. He’ll have to make up for iffy timed speed, 4.63, though for someone who watched him at his Pro Day, the field conditions weren’t great.