Overall: It's hard to argue with a unit that finished in the top three in pass defense but we all know that number is influenced by tons of different variables: the play of the offense, the score of the games, the rushing defense, etc. Barring a surprise draft pick though the same unit will be returning for 2008. There might be some minor shuffling in the depth chart but that'll play out in Latrobe. With the youth most of these guys possess, there's no reason that this unit can't be even stronger than it was in 2007.
Age and 07 Statistics: 27 years old (5/5/80), 80 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 16 passes defended, and 1 touchdown in 16 games.
Contract Status: Signed through 2010 with cap hits of $5.7 million (2008), $5.1 million (2009), and $5.1 million (2010)
2007 Analysis: Ike returned to his 2005 form this season after a down year in '06, setting a career high in interceptions. He also notched his first career sack and touchdown and perhaps most impressively, he played his third consecutive season without missing a game. Ike's stone hands drive fans crazy at times but there is some evidence that they're getting better. In his three full seasons as a starter he's increased his interceptions totals each year even though he had the most passes defended in his first year (2004).
2008 Outlook: Coach Tomlin said from day one that Ike was his special project and neither of the men let each other down. They seem to have a good working chemistry, and it should be interesting to see if there's more magic Tomlin can work with Ike. Taylor's still young enough to think that his best days could be ahead of him. He has the physical skills to be a Pro Bowl corner, the only thing standing in his way is his stone hands. I would expect Ike to look even better in 2008 though because the Steelers' pass rush should be improved.
Just hold onto a couple more balls like this Ike and your Hawaii bound.
Age and 07 Statistics: 32 years old (9/8/75), 52 tackles, 2 interceptions, 16 passes defended in 16 games
Contract Status: Signed throw 2009 with cap hits of $1.973 million (2008) and $2.373 million (2009)
2007 Analysis: Townsend had a breakout year of sorts, which is hard to say for someone is age. But it's true. He set a career high with 16 passes defended. He's not flashy but week in and week out, he gets the job done. For the third consecutive year he finished with around 50 tackles and 2 interceptions. He also proved in yet another year how durable he is, missing just 1 game in the past 9 seasons.
2008 Outlook: I've thought to myself the past couple of off seasons that it's time for him to move to nickel back but he keeps proving me wrong. Just a few years ago though, our pass coverage was a big problem, and Deshea was a part of it. Like Ike, maybe Townsend has picked up some things from Tomlin that he wasn't thinking about earlier in his career. This could finally be the season though that Townsend's run as a starter comes to an end. At his age he's bound to slow down but he should have the skills to excel in any package that calls for extra DBs for the remainder of his contract.
Age and 07 Statistics: 26 years old (11/21/81), 23 tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended, 1 TD in 13 games
Contract Status: Signed through 2008 with a cap hit of $790K
2007 Analysis: McFadden took a pretty big step back in this season, mostly because of injuries. He missed three games, struggled through a couple others and finished with his worst season as a professional. McFadden's also finished with just one special teams tackle, but I'll have ask you guys if he continued to play on coverage units this year?
2008 Outlook: McFadden is still being groomed as Townsend's replacement and 08 should be the year that he takes over. He's entering the final year of his rookie contract and should have millions of reasons to be motivated. He has flashed potential to be a dynamic ball hawking corner in the past and it'll be up to him to show us that on a consistent basis. It is still possible that he'll get an extension some time this off season though.
Age and 07 Statistics: 23 years old (1/1/85), 19 tackles, 2 passes defended in 16 games
Contract Status: signed through 2009 with cap hits of $405K (2008) and $495K (2009)
2007 Analysis: Gay was the first rookie to catch our eye after a strong preseason in which he totaled 14 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble. For most of the season though he was primarily a special teams player and one of the team leaders in special teams tackles with 11. The best news for Gay, in his rookie season is that he was healthy the entire year and did get exposed in any of his limited action.
2008 Outlook: As good as Gay looked in the preseason or on special teams, he's probably still a year or two away from being a regular, solid contributor on defense. He has looked capable of being an NFL corner though in limited playing time and we'll just have to wait and see how he develops. If he continues to develop into a solid player, the secondary could be in much better shape than we realize.
Age and 07 Statistics: 24 years old (8/18/83), 3 tackles in 5 games
Contract Status: Signed through 2008 with a cap hit of $370K
2007 Analysis: Mason was inactive or on the practice squad more games than he was active so it's hard to get any kind of real read on his season. All three of his tackles came via special teams and he recorded his first career forced fumble against the Bengals (12/2).
2008 Outlook: Mason should be on the squad in 2008 unless the Steelers surprise us and draft a cornerback early in the draft. If Mason wants to stay in the league he'll have to make his name known on special teams and he at least showed an ability to do that in '07. The real question though is, just who is Grant Mason? His profile on Steelers.com has two different birthdays listed and says he was drafted in the '04 draft by the Bucanneers (which is what I thought I remembered). His NFL.com profile though says that this season was his first in the league. His profile on Yahoo Sports says he wasn't drafted at all and this season was his first in the league. Are there any Grant Mason experts out there?
Editor's Note: I received the following email last night from someone who must have seen your question cgolden :
Age and 07 Statistics: 26 years old (10/8/81)
Contract Status: signed through 2008 with a cap hit of $445K
2007 Analysis: Madison started the year with Tampa Bay but was signed off their practice squad after 7 games. He again made his living on special teams and finished with 11 special teams tackles in just 9 games.
2008 Analysis: Madison is another guy whose future depends on how the Steelers draft. He seems to be a pretty good special teams player considering he's had back to back seasons with double digit tackles despite only playing in 22 career games. He's to the age where they've probably given up on him as a corner but he can continue his career with stellar play on coverage units.
Needs: Considering the youth in this unit, the Steelers might be able to leave this unit alone and focus on other problem areas. Ike, Deshea, and McFadden are an above average top 3 corners and Gay has shown pretty decent potential. An improved pass rush is the biggest need for the secondary as a whole. So what do you guys think, are you satisfied with the future of this group or would you like to see an early pick on a corner? Do you see McFadden or Gay as future starters or are they destined to be career backups?