Ike Taylor was a microcosm of what a Steeler defender looks like: talented, athletic, all about the team -- and just a little crazy.
Growing up, Taylor's uncle used the help him train by making Ike pull him around a field on a tire. And chase rabbits. Rather than resent it, Taylor relished those times. It's not the watch-out-for-that-guy kind of crazy. It's more like the buddy-who-makes-you-punch-him-for-fun kind.
Taylor retired this off-season on the heels of Steelers legend Troy Polamalu doing the same. In fact, Taylor said he was waiting for Troy to do it, simply because he wanted to go out with his close friend, with whom he entered the league in 2003.
Steelers Training Camp Preview: OLBs
Outside linebacker may not be the Steelers' most uncertain position on the team right now, but it's definitely the most interesting. Two young first-round picks? A guy who is literally old enough to be a grandfather who may still be one of the most feared players in the league? The player who led the Canadian Football League in sacks in 2014? Yes, please.
Steelers Training Camp Preview: ILBs
Having four inside linebackers with starting experience and the talent that goes with it sounds like a great problem to have. But, with three very different types of players all trying to take one starting spot, is it as good as it sounds, or could it become a weakness?
Every single one of those traits -- and more -- are exactly what this team needs at cornerback going forward. Character, loyalty, brains and athleticism. In that order.
Those guys may just be on the roster already.
William Gay oozes character. He speaks softly on the field, yet firmly against domestic violence due to events in his past. He came back to the team after a year away, and has been willing to do whatever the coaches have asked of him. He reads plays well, taking all three of his 2014 interceptions back for touchdowns.
If he was just a little more outspoken, you'd be forgiven for mistaking him for Taylor.
Despite a bad showing in 2014, Cortez Allen has the ability to follow in their footsteps. He's as athletic as anyone on the entire defense and has a nearly ideal build for the position. He didn't pout and make comments to the media when he was demoted. In fact, this off-season he openly acknowledged his shortcomings and vowed to fix them. If you doubt his sincerity, remember this: he came to the Steelers by way of Citadel -- a military college. You don't get much more disciplined than that.
Allen's stock fell throughout 2014, but Antwon Blake's rose rapidly. He's a hard-hitting, aggressive corner who plays the ball well. Despite just one start last year, and being just 5-feet 9-inches tall, Blake was third on the team in passes defended.
If Blake and Brice McCain, who left in free agency, hadn't stepped in for Allen and played as well as they had, B.W. Webb may have seen more playing time. A fourth-round pick for Dallas in 2013, Webb was once touted by NFL Network's Mike Mayock as having the potential to be a strong nickel corner, comparable to Adam "Don't Call Me Pacman" Jones. All indications are that the comparison was purely a physical one. Webb shows good footwork and has a lot of experience playing zone coverage.
New this year are Kevin Fogg, who spent last year in the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) after two years as a starter at Liberty, and 2015 draft picks Senquez Golson of Ole Miss and Doran Grant of the 2015 National-Champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
Fogg moves well and plays with good instincts but lacks height and mass. He also had a series of foot injuries in college. However, he was an All-American as a kick returner, which may give him just enough value to make the team if he shows well in camp.
Golson is a speedy, instinctual ball hawk. He reads and reacts extremely well, and is a very willing tackler despite his notably small stature. He plays bigger than that, though, with a great vertical jump and extension and tight, aggressive coverage. And he pulled down 10 interceptions in 2014 -- in the SEC. The only real knock on Golson is that he only had three interceptions in his first three years.
Doran Grant might be my favorite corner on the roster, though. He's a strong, quiet locker-room leader from a Big-Ten school. He played a significant part in Ohio State's run to the 2015 championship, performing well against strong competition. When you watch him play, he just looks like a pro.
This group is young and athletic, and full of potential. Hopefully, that can all be turned into production.
And maybe -- just maybe -- one or two of them will turn out to be a little crazy.
My Absurdly Early Prediction: Gay and Allen are already being called the starters, and I think Allen will recover from last season. He's got a good head on his shoulders, and I believe he is working as hard as he says. Blake is a given, at this point, and Golson and Grant are almost locked in based solely on their draft rounds (2 and 4, respectively). They won't need to fall back on that, though. They earned those draft slots. Finally, I think the team will try to keep six corners if at all possible, and the sixth with be Webb.