By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake acknowledged that 5-foot-9, 176-pound Senquez Golson would be challenged every game by larger, physical receivers, but that didn't deter the club from taking the former Mississippi cornerback with the 56th overall pick in the second round during the 80th annual NFL Draft Friday night at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
Golson's "unusual'' ball skills, speed, athleticism and productivity far outweighed any concerns. Lake also believed Golson's willingness to tackle and desire to defend against the run would overcome any deficiencies.
"There's no question about that,'' Lake said. "Just like they challenge all of our defensive backs. If you're 6-2, they're going to throw at you or if you're 5-8, they're going to throw at you. So, he's going to have to come in and prove that he can play in this league, and we think that he can.''
Golson made 33 starts in 49 games played and tallied 16 interceptions, including 10 last season while receiving unanimous first-team All-America honors. Golson also was a terrific baseball center fielder and was selected in the eighth round by the Boston Red Sox during the 2011 MLB Draft, but turned it down to remain in college and stick with football.
"It was hard to turn down, but football is what I love to do,'' Golson said. "Football is in my heart, and I just followed my heart. ... I never questioned myself (about it), but college was a three-pronged deal. I could play football, baseball and get a degree. So, I knew that one of them would work out for me.''
Golson noted that he played extensively against big wideouts in the SEC, so he should be able to adapt to the NFL as well.
"My understanding of the game, my first three years, I was taking my time and perfecting my game,'' Golson said. "I went through a lot of film-watching, and I needed to get that experience in.''
Golson described himself as a country boy from Mississippi. His favorite player from the past was Terrell Buckley, who is from the same hometown as Golson. Like Buckley, Golson can go get the football when it's in the air.
"He really is a ballhawking-type of corner with very good quickness, very good anticipation and awareness,'' Lake said. "(And) we're looking for someone with exceptional skills. And Senquez has exceptional ball skills. ... He's just a well-rounded athlete, who turned down a lucrative contract to play baseball, was in the outfield, and does a great job tracking down the football.
"And anytime you can get a guy like that, who can pluck the ball out of the air, he adds value. It's a pass-oriented league. It's been transitioning to that for a while, and it requires multiple formations, personnel in the secondary on the field. A lot more than usual. A lot of times five and sometimes six DBs, and they all need to defend the pass. And hopefully take the ball away.''
When the Steelers had Golson in for a visit, Lake was impressed by his intelligence and overall knowledge of the game.
"He's very sharp,'' Lake said. "(And) I really liked that about him, and he won't have a problem learning the system. ... He's very aware, and I can put him in multiple situations because of that. I think he'll adapt very quickly to different schemes that we put him in, whether it's in the nickel or at outside corner.''
Golson will also be asked to crash the line to defend against the run, as the Steelers AFC North opponents all have big backs. So, he'll be tested in that area, but Lake said he has a willingness to do that and is very tough, even though he isn't a big corner. Lake added that if Golson was a couple inches taller, he likely would have been a high first-round pick, because all those corners taken ahead of him couldn't match his productivity in college.
Also, with the losses that the Steelers have had, including safety Troy Polamalu and corners Ike Taylor and Brice McCain from last season, secondary certainly was a position of need, Lake said.
"You need to replace those people,'' Lake added.
So, Golson should be the first among several secondary selections for the Steelers in this year's draft.