If you saw the Pittsburgh Steelers in practice yesterday—which, if you’re reading this, the odds are strong that you did not—you will have noticed that the secondary looked awfully thin, with a particular dearth of safeties to be noted.
You might recall that during the team’s loss to the Eagles on Sunday, the Steelers lost starting strong safety Robert Golden along the way to a hamstring injury. Less obvious was the fact that rookie defensive back Sean Davis also came and went a bit throughout the game, as he suffered a back injury about midway through the fourth quarter on the 40-yard screen pass.
He was able to return to the game, and remained in Golden’s role once the veteran was forced to leave the game, but he was clearly bothered throughout the game, which he got through on adrenaline, no doubt, and his status is in jeopardy for Sunday night’s game, especially if he is not able to practice tomorrow.
If the team is without both Golden and Davis, then that is going to cause some major adjustments throughout the lineup, and we, of course, saw the byproducts of that in yesterday’s practice, and in the reports of said practice, in which Jordan Dangerfield confirmed that he worked in Golden’s role in the starting lineup, and that Justin Gilbert also saw time in sub-package work.
Obviously, William Gay and Ross Cockrell are going to remain the starting pair of cornerbacks, and Mike Mitchell will still be there at the back end—even if he got a bit banged up on Sunday as well. But when the team moves to the nickel, Gay will have to shift into the slot in order to make way for, presumably, rookie Artie Burns, who ended up as the team’s nickel back by the end of Sunday’s game after Golden left.
With Gilbert getting up to speed on the defense, and, of course, the injury need arising, the Steelers seem eager to make the dime defense available to them, and should he play on Sunday, it will be in a true dime role, in which the defense employs four cornerbacks and two safeties.
When the Steelers have used six defensive backs this season, it has been in what they call a ‘quarter’ sub-package, as Davis moves from the slot to safety, with Burns, Gay, and Cockrell as the cornerbacks and Golden serving as a box safety, almost like a linebacker.
They will lose that, in all likelihood, with the absence of two safeties, since Gay is the only healthy player on the team at the moment who is practicing with the starters and who can play the slot, or can drift back to a safety role if necessary, which he did on occasion against the Eagles.
At the beginning of the season, there were those clamoring to see Burns and Gilbert on the field, the new mold of cornerbacks that the team seems to be interested in. It would seem that you will be getting your taste of that on Sunday night.