It has been no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled in the draft in the past few years. Players such as Ziggy Hood, Curtis Brown, David Paulson and Credzon Butler are just a few players that did not work out following the draft. Currently, there are players on the Steelers roster who are on the cusp of being labeled a draft bust because of poor play and/or injury history; Cortez Allen, Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas. The Steelers have been patient with these three players and all three are projected to start in 2015. Should fans be concerned, hopeful, confident, or undecided? Will the patience the Steelers have shown be worth it?
Out of the three players mentioned, Allen has been the most productive. Allen is blessed with great size and hands for the cornerback position. One of the frustrating things about him is that he can return an interception for a touchdown on any play but is prone to giving up a big play the next drive. Another thing that concerns many fans is that Allen apparently lost his confidence last season. With Keith Butler taking over as defensive coordinator, it will be interesting to see which coverage Bulter will have Allen play in the most and what coaching strategy he will use to inspire Allen to believe in himself. Allen seems ideal for man coverage because of his size and above average speed. With the pass rush being a concern, the zone coverage sounds better suited for Allen. Mentally, Allen needs to understand he has what it takes to play in the NFL.
Thomas, so far in his first two seasons, has proven to be good on special teams. But, there is not enough evidence when it comes to him playing defense to make such a statement. That’s scary considering he is the one projected to replace long time great Troy Polamalu. The best way to see if Thomas is ready early on is to bring in stiff competition during camp. It rarely works out well when a player with little starting experience is not pushed to the limit before the season starts. Thomas is known as a hard-hitting safety and that will suit him well playing downhill. The major question is his coverage skills – how he will match up with slot receivers and tight ends. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake should be able to help in this area as he was a former safety and cornerback for the Steelers.
When Jones suffered a wrist injury in week three of the 2014 season, he was not playing terrible football at all. Jones was getting to the quarterback more and improving in the run defense. When he returned from injury late in the season, James Harrision and Arthur Moats took most of his reps. Jones needs improvement in his strength and pass-rush moves. Hopefully, training with Harrision this offseason will have helped Jones in the strength department. Another year under the coaching of former pass-rush specialist and outside linebacker coach Joey Porter should hopefully improve Jones’ pass rush skills. Nobody questions the effort of Jones, but his technique needs major work from his stance, takeoff and ability to close on the quarterback.
Allen, Thomas and Jones will all be expected to play at a more consistent level in the 2015 season to prove they are not wasted draft picks. The Steelers hope the patience they have shown these three can prove the young guys can be starters for most of the season. That way the team won’t have to rely so heavily on depth, as they did last year. With a top ten offense, the Steelers may not be able to afford to allow these players to develop at any slower of a pace. If the patience does pay off and Allen, Thomas and Jones rise to a different level, it would elevate the defense. The Steelers could use a top ten defense to add to their high-performance offense. That would lead to many wins regardless of how difficult the upcoming schedule will be.
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