The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary has been a negative point of emphasis throughout the 2015 preseason. A unit which gave 232 yards per game through the air in their 5 preseason games will look to those who made the 53-man roster to help prove to themselves, and the Steelers' fan base, they are not the weak link of a defensive unit searching for answers.
Who will step up and be the playmakers at the cornerback position when the team travels to play the New England Patriots on Thursday could be labeled as 'TBD' or 'To Be Determined'. It was seemingly a given the starting cornerbacks to start the season would be William Gay and Cortez Allen, but after the preseason, nothing is written in stone.
Per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, it looks as if Antwon Blake very well might get the start on the outside across from Gay, beating out Allen for the starting spot. However, Blake is downplaying such a change on the depth chart based solely on practice.
"It's still early in the week, and we have a long week ahead of us," Blake said. "I feel like competition brings out the best in everyone. We have a few questions about our defense, so we hope to answer those."
Most of those questions Blake speaks of have surrounded the secondary, and it seems the coaching staff is searching for answers. Sunday it was announced Will Allen is likely to start over Shamarko Thomas along side Mike Mitchell as the starting safety tandem on Thursday night.
The coaching staff is willing to mix things up, even before the first regular season game, to try and find a combination which works. The same was done in 2014 when Allen's play had him benched in lieu of Brice McCain. When Ike Taylor was lost due to injury, it was Blake who stepped up and helped be the stop-gap on the outside.
Blake is a fierce competitor, and what he lacks in size he makes up for in tenacity and heart, but one player who might be worth keeping an eye on is Brandon Boykin. The newly acquired defensive back has proven he can play both inside and outside, and has done so throughout this preseason.
The plan entering the new football season was going to be Gay and Allen on the outside, with Gay moving to the inside when teams deploy multiple receiver sets. Who would fill on the outside was the debate throughout camp. How those plans are altered with the change in the depth chart are up for speculation, but if Allen is truly stripped of his starting spot, you can bet you will see Boykin on the field in specific situations.
The coaching staff is trying to find a successful combination, fans just hope it doesn't come at the expense of the entire defense.