For the first time in quite a while, it would seem, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in good position to enter the season with a starting secondary that finished the previous season and is likely to finish the year as well. The mostly-young grouping of cornerbacks Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell with safeties Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis are more or less the inevitable starters who are unlikely to be replaced at any point this season.
That is quite a change of pace from recent years, including just last season, during which both Burns and Davis usurped others as rookies to enter the starting lineup. Davis took the starting job from Robert Golden, while Burns kicked William Gay into the nickel role.
The year before, the Steelers envisioned opening the season with Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen in the starting lineup, but by the opener, it was Will Allen and Antwon Blake starting. And by the end of the year, Blake was losing snaps to Cockrell.
Mike Mitchell had just joined the team in 2014 as a new piece, but over the course of the year, Cortez Allen also lost his starting job to Gay. Brice McCain also ended up in the starting lineup as a result of injuries and ineffectiveness, starting nine games.
The same thing, frankly, happened in 2013 with Gay taking over for Allen. But back to 2012, Allen ended up starting while Ike Taylor was injured at the end of the season. It was also the only year in which Keenan Lewis was a full-time starter. Troy Polamalu also missed most of the season due to injuries. This is the closest they came to having a stable unit if you discount the injuries.
While Gay was nearly a wall-to-wall starter in 2011, it was actually Bryant McFadden who began the season as a starter. But he was injured in the season opener, and Gay replaced him, ending up starting the remaining 15 games.
You would have to go back all the way to the 2010 season to find the Steelers’ last stable starting secondary from beginning to end, with the group of Taylor, McFadden, Polamalu, and Ryan Clark. Between the four of them, they missed just two games.
Oh, and Pittsburgh went to the Super Bowl that year, a year in which a defensive back on the team won the Defensive Player of the Year award. The Steelers were knocking on the door of a return trip to the Super Bowl last year, and a stable secondary could help them get back over the hump.
The best thing about this group is the fact that three of the four are quite young. Other than Mitchell, who is 29, Cockrell is the oldest and most experienced as he enters his fourth season in the league. Burns and Davis, of course, are just entering their second seasons. And they look to be starters for a good, long time in the league.