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2014 Steelers season scenarios: Ike Taylor no longer starts at right cornerback

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In games without injury, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has made 44 consecutive starts at right cornerback. He missed four games at the end of the 2012 season, but has otherwise owned that position. Will that streak continue?

Rob Carr

Scenario: Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor continues as the team's starting right cornerback for all 16 games in 2014.

Why it will happen: It's a double-edged sword, but no cornerback on the Steelers has as much experience as Taylor. Minus a random non-start in Week 13 of the 2010 season (he played in the game but didn't make the start for some reason), and four games at the end of the 2012 season when he broke his leg, Taylor has been this team's starting right cornerback for every regular season game since 2007. His durability can't be questioned, but his level of ability is now fair game.

But that level of experience, particularly in the team's base defense, will hold up for him in 2014 - likely his last in Pittsburgh. The 35-year-old Taylor is a workout warrior, and he knows how to keep himself in shape. While he's not the same uber-athlete he was in 2010, the addition of Mike Mitchell to the deep secondary will help the Steelers provide more over-the-top coverage in their Cover 2 look, and could even let them play Cover 1 a bit more like they have in the past.

With a schedule chock-full of speedy deep threats, Taylor will be challenged, just as the entire Steelers' secondary will, but there really isn't an alternative in place. Fourth-year CB Cortez Allen is being groomed to take over the right cornerback position eventually, but he starts on the left side now. William Gay probably has more all around skill, but his highest and best use is in the slot. The depth behind those three is still up in the air, but it will be a battle between Brice McCain, Antwon Blake and rookie Shaquille Richardson. All three put together can't match Taylor's experience, and with a young and transitioning defense, experience will be a valuable asset.

Why it won't happen: Experience aside, Taylor fell off noticeably over the second half of the 2013 season. The team offered Taylor a reduced contract just to stay in Pittsburgh - a contract he kept because his value on the open market isn't anywhere close to the $2.5 million he'll play for this year in Pittsburgh. In fact, the $2.5 million can be viewed more as "thanks for your years of service" more than "here's what you're worth as a player."

McCain in particular showed outstanding ability in covering the slot in Houston. He signed with the Steelers in 2014 after a disastrous final year with the Texans - a team that completely fell apart over the year. If McCain can get back to his form, that may compel the Steelers to bouce Gay outside and keep McCain inside with Allen anchoring the other outside spot. The rise in four receiver sets along with talented pass-catching tight ends may simply force the Steelers to, again, play in deep sub packages often, but against a more balanced offense, their best choice may simply end up to be keeping Taylor on the bench.

Keys: McCain's ability to play at or near Gay's level in the slot will pretty much be the deciding factor, both for Taylor's future as a starter as well as McCain's viability on this team. Richardson is the rookie, and cutting a cornerback taken in the fifth round for the second consecutive year doesn't seem appealing in the long run. McCain can make the roster if he shows in camp he can be counted on to cover the slot, and from there, it's a matter of whether Gay, the better of the two cornerbacks between himself and Taylor, can defend as well on the outside as he can on the inside.

If that's the case, the Steelers may get a bit smaller but their level of coverage will improve.