When Quentin Lake arose from the locker room as the first man on the practice field at Saturday’s inaugural East-West Shrine Game practice, it was easy to make connections to the Steelers. Carnell Lake, Quentin’s father, was a four time All-Pro hybrid safety for the Steelers’ great Blitzburgh defense of the 1990s before returning for a lengthy stint as the team’s defensive backs coach from 2011-2017.
Quentin put together a successful collegiate career in his own right, finishing his career with 179 tackles, 4 TFLs, 6 INTs, and 15 PDs. In his senior season during the fall of 2021, Lake set new career highs in tackles for losses, interceptions, and passes defended, showcasing the schematic and positional versatility which should help him hear his name called in this spring’s NFL Draft.
Likely a Day 3 prospect, Lake’s projected special teams ability, positional versatility, schematic understanding of the Steelers defense, and bloodline connection to the organization through his father Carnell Lake all help connect the Steelers. Schematically, Lake referenced Cover 6 and Cover 4 as the base schemes of the UCLA defense, both schemes which have been deployed in Pittsburgh under Lebeau and now under Tomlin’s leadership. Moreover, at UCLA, Lake stated that he had experience in both Cover 3 and Cover 1, the two staples of the Steelers current single high centric scheme under Tomlin.
Entering the NFL, Quentin Lake has shown the ability to effectively play both man and zone coverage at a high level, allowing him to succeed as a post safety, box safety, nickel cornerback, and dime defender. In Pittsburgh, this positional versatility could help him see early snaps in sub packages, where his man coverage ability, football IQ, and physicality could help the unit on passing downs.
Particularly at the first day of Shrine Game practices, Lake stood out as one of the best man coverage safeties on the roster, even lining up in press coverage on slot receivers in the WR/DB 1v1 drills. His ability to wear many hats defensively both helps his ability to serve as a valuable reserve early on, as well help in adding versatility to the teams defensive personnel. If drafted in Pittsburgh, Lake has the ability to contribute immediately on special teams while also helping add depth at both safety spots, compete for snaps at the nickel and dimebacker positions, and even serve as boundary corner depth in a pinch.
Below, I’ve pulled a couple snippets from our post practice interview focusing on his schematic fit and positional versatility.
Owen: You guys were running a lot of Cover 1, a lot of Cover 3, single-high stuff. Is that similar to what you were doing at UCLA?
Quentin: It’s a little bit different. We did run Cover 1 and Cover 3, but our main calls at UCLA were probably Cover 6, Cover 0, Cover 4, and then a sprinkle of Cover 2.
Owen: Obviously you are an extremely versatile player and have the ability to function at a high level within any scheme. With that being said, is there any one scheme that you watch at the next level and envision yourself thriving in?
Quentin: In terms of scheme, no, maybe position a little bit. I feel like I’m versatile enough to play any position. You know, whether that’s a team, they need me at nickel, whether that’s a team, they need me at dime linebacker, whether that’s a team, hey, we want you to just strictly work in the post. I feel like I can do it all. I can play man, I can play zone, you know? I’m a plug and play player.
Owen: There’s a lot of these safeties coming into this week unprepared for these WR/DB 1v1 drills, and they end up looking like a fish out of water out there. I actually thought you held your own pretty well. Where would you say your man coverage background started from and what are the types of things you do to stay ready for these situations?
Quentin: So my man coverage background comes from high school. I played corner, so I was able to develop my skills from a coverage standpoint in high school, especially press man, and even off man, you know. I had thousands of reps against good opponents, especially Amon-Ra St. Brown. He went to my high school, so I was able to go against him almost every day. So that’s one of the reasons why it wasn’t necessarily that I got a lot of reps, but I was getting a lot of reps against good competition. So that in terms of man of is that’s where it comes from. And then I just feel confident. That’s the biggest thing, especially as a DB, when you get up and have to play man to man,you have to have confidence, you have to believe in your ability. You have to believe in the work you put in. You don’t see a lot of safeties go up there and press slot receivers. That’s almost unheard of. I just wanted to be able to show my ability to do that. Which I think you guys will continue to see the rest of the week.
Needless to say, in an NFL which is constantly evolving to become a more matchup oriented game, no longer restricted positions, Pittsburgh’s front office will always be interested in players with Lake’s level of schematic and positional versatility. As we move deeper into the draft process we’ll take a deeper dive into Quentin Lake’s game with a draft profile. We will also make sure to continue monitoring the UCLA products work at the remaining Shrine Game practices as well as his performance in Thursday night’s game.