Pittsburgh Steelers fans have been concerned about the lack of depth in the Steelers’ defense for some time now. The area of most concern has been in the defensive backfield – one that proved ineffective often during the 2014 NFL season. Recent departures and a big question mark regarding Troy Polamalu (despite him being a safety and not a cornerback) have heated up the discussion, especially since the free agency signing period saw the front office pass on signing any outside free agent to give the team depth. Comments from head coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert haven’t gone over well, either. In this ‘Between the Hashmarks’ feature, I’ll take an in-depth look at the issue and what fans are expressing.
Tomlin on cornerbacks:
“I expect the guys that we have to continue to grow and get better…I expect to add credible, competent men to add to that mix to provide competition and put them in a competitive environment and see who comes out on top. I’m completely comfortable that at the end of that we’re going to have above the line corner play.”
The issue with Tomlin’s statement, in my opinion, has to do with the fact that the Steelers appear to be complacent in their approach. Whether that is the case or not, it has the air of trying to calm the waters. Fans are mixed in how they view Tomlin’s take. The Steelers finished 27th in the league against the pass in 2014. That is an abysmal position to be located in today’s era of pass-often football. Is Tomlin overlooking the ‘obvious’ – that the defensive backfield really stunk things up last season – or is he trying to project confidence that the team will be able to both draft competitive defensive backs and rely on relative untested players on the current roster?
With just three cornerbacks with any real experience under their belt on the current roster, this area absolutely has to be addressed and if fans can see it, the front office should have it on their minds almost daily. Despite the re-signing of Antwon Blake, who is expected to replace departed free agent Brice McCain, the Steelers have done little to garner confidence outside of their own inner circle. Tomlin may be confident in Cortez Allen’s ability to rebound, but after seeing Allen benched last season, many fans do not feel the same.
Fan Quotes: (via Facebook)*
* Last names removed only to protect identity of the fan, not to take away from their statements
The comments above match a trend across the board. Fans are expressing frustration in nearly every social media forum (including Facebook and Twitter), in comment fields on the Steelers’ official website and on other news sites, including here on Steelers Gab.
Tomlin and Colbert regarding using the draft:
Both Tomlin and Colbert stated that the Steelers were opting to add to the cornerback position via the draft.
Tomlin said this on Tuesday:
“We believe in the process that we go through and we also believe in the men that we have…I know some of the guys that we have on our roster at the position right now don’t have extended resumes. That’s always the case. How do you gain experience without going through the process of gaining experience? These guys are driven and they want to be positive contributors to our efforts and reasons why we’re successful and some of those guys played key roles down the stretch last year.”
The number one response (as recorded via Facebook and Twitter) to Tomlin’s statement above was that the process needs to be a lot faster and produce much quicker if the Steelers are to be competitive in 2015. The number two response was that it is unlikely the Steelers will be able to count on the guys on the current roster to become starters week in and week out.
With a disclaimer that this is my opinion and not the opinion of SteelersGab.com or any of its other writers, let me give you my take on the situation. It isn’t completely improbable that the three corners on the current roster will improve. In fact, they are in a must-do situation. It seems unlikely that the Steelers will be able to draft two or more cornerbacks this year who can immediately step into a starting role. Although it has been disputed, the cornerback class has not been particularly impressive across the board. There are a few prospects that stand out, but the rest of the class is so-so. Yes, Carnell Lake has been attending Pro Days at several colleges and universities where cornerback talent is higher (Michigan State most recently). With Tomlin admitting that it will take time for guys to build “resumes” and “gain experience”, it reinforces the mindset that the team will not be able to field a strong defensive backfield at corner.
I don’t like to speak for fans as a whole – but as a fan of the team myself, I think the statements by the Steelers, their staff and coaches leave me feeling more than uneasy about how the Steelers’ defense will fare against teams who love to stretch the field and attack corners. To see a great Steelers offense struggle because their defense can’t get the other team off the field or prevent points on the scoreboard is worrisome. I love to see the Steelers succeed. Last season, I needed Pepto Bismol after nearly every game. I was, admittedly, disappointed that the team did not immediately target McCain to re-sign. McCain created turnovers and was more impressive to me that Allen and William Gay. That makes me wonder if I am going to have a full-blown ulcer before the preseason is even over in 2015.
I remain a loyal fan and understand it is unrealistic to think that every season is going to be Super Bowl-caliber despite my desire for the franchise to get another Lombardi Trophy. However, the approach of wait and see screams desperation, not preparation, to me right now. I am not giving up on the team. I have been a die-hard fan since I was five and able to understand and enjoy football (and no, I am not going to age myself but I was celebrating the Immaculate Reception). Fans want to see their team do well and handle bad seasons poorly. It’s the nature of being part of ‘Steeler Nation’. Steelers fans may be viewed as opinionated, rude, stubborn and overly-expectant but I think it is because a majority of Steelers fans have come to expect the very best from their team; right or wrong. If the Steelers want to keep one of the most loyal fanbases in the world, they don’t necessarily have to take advice from fans – but they could take a lot away from what fans are saying. Perhaps just a little bug in the ear heading into 2015. An organization can’t cater to every individual fan and they can’t just throw out their overall plan, but the vibration they feel from fans right now should give them an indication that there are very high expectations.
Want to express your take? Leave a comment (please, not regarding me, but your personal opinion overall regarding the cornerback situation and Steelers) and/or take the polls. Let’s see where Steeler Nation really stands on this issue.
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