The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive secondary has been a jumbled mess for years now. The one constant is, and has been, William Gay, but other than Gay, very little has remained year after year.
In 2016, the Steelers were focused on youth and athleticism at the defensive back position. Two rookies, CB Artie Burns and S Sean Davis, were expected to be legitimate players for the team for years to come. No one would have guessed the year they would make contributions would be their rookie year, but when Senquez Golson was injured in the early portions of training camp, it opened the door for Burns and Davis to see the field more.
The only issue is without Golson, a natural fit for the slot cornerback position, Pittsburgh was forced to move pieces of the puzzle around to make it work.
Originally, the Steelers put Davis, who played CB at Maryland his Senior year, at the slot position, with Ross Cockrell and Gay on the outside. After injuring his back against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3, Davis saw his playing time decrease, and Artie Burns’ playing time increase.
Burns’ acclimation to the NFL seemed to be swift, and the team moved Gay to the slot, his natural position, and Burns on the outside. This seemed to have worked, with Davis moving back to safety as his primary focus, but Burns’ tackling, or lack thereof, and poor run support abilities haven’t helped a defense which has given up back-to-back 100 yard rushers to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.
As the Steelers head into the bye week, it seems they have gone back to the drawing board in hopes of finding a solution to their issues. One idea the coaching staff isn’t scrapping is moving Davis back to the slot, where he started the season.
"He worked the slot today," Carnell Lake told Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider.net. "I threw him in there originally, slid him back a little bit to regroup, and got him back in there. That's where he is."
With Davis in the lineup the Steelers are much more secure on the outside, in terms of run support. Gay is a fierce tackler, and Cockrell has been able to hold his own on more than one occasion. If Davis can prove to be better in coverage than he was earlier this season, the team might just have the answer to their question, in regards to their secondary.
The simple truth to all this is the Steelers miss Golson more than people may realize. When he went down with his Lisfranc injury it left a gaping hole at the slot cornerback position. Not every defensive back can just step up and fill in, which is why Burns or Justin Gilbert haven’t been in the discussion for the job.
The Steelers are searching for answers, and it seems as if the defensive secondary is far from etched into stone with 9 weeks of play remaining on the schedule.