After a disappointing showing from his secondary during the second preseason game, Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his defensive staff decided to shake things up during the week of practice that followed, and we ultimately saw that plan brought to bare on the field during tonight’s game against the Colts.
While Artie Burns remained a consistent presence in the first half—and even into the second half a bit—the rest of the cornerbacks were mixed in. Ross Cockrell and William Gay started the game, playing the first drive, which did not go well at all, resulting in a touchdown on a long drive, including a big play.
When the defense took the field for their second drive, Cockrell was substituted for Coty Sensabaugh, the veteran, sixth-year cornerback that the Steelers brought in during free agency. The coaching staff liked what they saw from him during training camp, and Tomlin said that he would compete for Cockrell’s job.
It wasn’t just the left outside cornerback spot that became suddenly up for grabs, however, as Gay was also replaced as the starting slot cornerback with Mike Hilton, the first-year former undrafted free agent who has been making plays all offseason, including during the preseason.
And it didn’t even stop at the cornerbacks. With Mike Mitchell remaining out since early in training camp, Robert Golden, the sixth-year veteran, has been working in his place the entire time. But while he started tonight, Jordan Dangerfield came in for him on the second drive. Golden contributed to the big, 50-plus yard play on the opening drive with a missed tackle.
While the Sensabaugh and Hilton duo did not allow a score on their second drive of the game, the starters did come back in for the third drive, and as you might expect, the roles were reversed once again for the fourth drive, with Cockrell and Gay taking a seat.
On one play during that fourth drive, however, Gay did come back onto the field in the Steelers’ dime defense, which they showed I believe a handful of times, on a third down with six yards to go. Unfortunately, he was targeted and gave up the reception, unable to bring down Kamar Aiken before he fought for seven yards.
Frankly, I don’t think anybody played all that particularly well on the night for the secondary, aside from perhaps Davis, who had a nice pass breakup and near interception in the end zone. Gay did break up a pass in the end zone as well. I really don’t know how well-illuminated the picture has become as a result of what we have seen tonight in the secondary.
The fourth preseason game is typically left to the reserves, but if the Steelers are still trying to sort out who is going to start for them in the season opener—particularly when it comes to Cockrell versus Sensabaugh—then perhaps we will see more of them on Thursday than would otherwise be anticipated.