Steelers Miss Out On Chance To Get Top Slot Corner, Revamp Secondary

I was about, oh, 300 some words into another article. Then the news came across the wire. Logan Ryan gone to the Titans. And with that, so was my article.

I was planning on waxing away on why Ryan is the guy to target this offseason. All that was before Ryan’s contract of $10 million came through the wire which yeah, no matter how much you or I may have pined for him, puts him out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ range . Wouldn’t change if I throw rocks at his bedroom window. Unless I have $10 million in the other hand, he isn’t coming to the window.

Still, it doesn’t detract from the value Ryan would’ve brought to the team. What the Steelers need the most this offseason is a slot cornerback. With Ryan gone, and cream of the crop A.J. Bouye off the board, it stings.

Rank the starting three cornerbacks on the Steelers’ roster and William Gay will come in last place on most lists. He’s not crumbling the way people made him out to be after the Patriots’ loss – newsflash, the entire secondary was garbrage that game within a scheme that didn’t put them in position to win – but sure, he’s the one declining. It certainly isn’t Artie Burns, going into his second year, or Ross Cockrell, fourth overall, third with the team.

I’m not saying a guy like Cockrell can’t be upgraded. I’m open to the idea of competition, making the room that much better. But that isn’t the dire need. He’ll get better and Burns will take a big leap. It’s the slot corner spot that has more questions than answers both short and long-term.

There’s Gay. There’s Senquez Golson. Both require a leap of faith I’m not comfortable with. For Gay, clinging on to the final year or two of his career. For Golson, to uh, play a single snap.

What about the draft? After all, Burns was jettisoned onto the field pretty quickly and he was raw enough to piss off Gordon Ramsay. Problem is an outside corner’s job is a lot easier to learn on the fly than the slot. Neither are easy, clearly, and Burns’ rookie arc pitched and yawed the entire time.

The Steelers had to scheme for him, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’d be reckless to do anything else They kept him at his right corner spot, the same side of the field, after trying to shadow #1 receivers with Cockrell. Keith Butler implemented a heavy dose of Cover 2, the easiest scheme there is to learn for a rookie corner. And Burns was able to use leverage and the split of the receiver to his advantage. Receiver has a wide split close to the sideline? Align with an inside release and you’ve limited the route tree to two basic routes – a comeback and go. It’s not easy. But it’s easier. And the smart move, no doubt.

At slot corner? You can’t hide that guy. He sticks out like the introvert at the club (read: definitely me). There isn’t the ability to take a route away with leverage. You’re in the middle of the field, an entire ocean of grass to cover. Every concept is on the table. You’re lining up all over the field, a much bigger factor in the run and blitz game, plus dealing with more shifts, trades, and motions that will affect your assignment.

Take one early in the draft, get a little lucky and yeah, they could see the field by mid-season. But it’s a tough sell and you’re going to have a lot of problems early on. That’s all the more reason to be aggressive about a guy like Ryan, capable of playing on the outside and in the slot, often doing both in a game or even the same series. And why slot corner feels like the biggest area to upgrade if the team was serious about breathing life into the secondary, one that, don’t forget, still carries a lot of promise. Not even Warren Sapp can call this bunch old and slow.

But there’s still the weakness. And I get it. Ryan’s price range was so far into space I’d need Neil DeGrasse Tyson to explain it all to me. I wouldn’t have signed him for that much either. Ragging on Kevin Colbert doing a very Colbert thing is just silly.

However, none of that changes the problem the Steelers’ face in trying to upgrade at nickel, a position more common that a nose tackle and at this rate, probably a lot of inside linebackers. There are still options out there, Dallas’ Morris Claiborne perhaps being the biggest name. But it’ll be all the more competitive as market forces – who has two thumbs and just watched an episode of Mad Money, this freaking guy – as the supply see-saws opposite the demand.

The draft is still an option and ultimately, the likely direction Pittsburgh heads. It’s a less immediate solution to the need and with the team so close to a title, doesn’t bring the comfort it might normally would.

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