With the AFC North division title on the line, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake stripped the football from Cincinnati Bengals' wide receiver A.J. Green which proved to be the proverbial "nail in the coffin" for the Bengals in their hopes of being crowned AFC North champions. For Blake, the big play made is hopefully just the tip of the iceberg.
The play meant much more than just another turnover for the 5-foot 9-inch defensive back. "It definitely helped me build confidence," Blake told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I always felt like I could do it. But thinking and knowing that you can do it are two different things. Getting under the lights and making plays — it definitely helps."
Confidence with the starting defense wasn't something Blake didn't have the pleasure of knowing too well as he was always behind Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor, William Gay and Brice McCain in terms of playing time. When Allen struggled and Taylor was injured Blake was forced into regular duty. Despite his playing time in 2014, he isn't ready to write his name on the depth chart in pen just yet. For him to do that, he needs to have his coaches' trust.
"You always want to gain your coach's trust because that's the only way you can get onto the field," Blake said. "I've heard it doesn't matter how good you are. If the coach doesn't trust you, they'll go to someone else."
After the team's 2015 draft class, which included two cornerbacks, it would be easy for someone like Blake to be concerned with what their future might hold. Rookies Senquez Golson and Doran Grant will be gunning for a starting job at training camp this year, and not only Blake, but other veteran cornerbacks use it as motivation.
"That motivates everybody," said William Gay, who is entering the final season of a three-year contract. "It motivates me, too. Anytime the organization brings in two new people it means two older guys need to leave. Every day is a competition regardless of who we signed or drafted. That's what we're here for. We're here to put the best people on the field."
"I feel like competition brings out the best in every man," Blake said. "I don't feel like I'm better than any one of them, and I don't feel like anyone is better than me."
For Blake to win the starting job it will take place on the practice fields at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA and in the preseason. If Blake is able to secure a spot within the regular corner back rotation, he will have plenty of opportunities to prove the forced fumble against the Bengals in Week 17 last year was just the beginning of something great.