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The 2016 Steelers secondary is already light years ahead of where they were in 2015 at this time

The linchpin for the Steelers defense in 2016 is already light years ahead of their 2015 unit in the defensive secondary.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard not to forget the scene in Week 1 when the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the season against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Thursday night.

You forgot? Let me paint the picture for you...

Pure chaos in the defensive secondary. Players pointing, not knowing where to go and generally confused. How bad was it? Well, on one particular play they forgot to cover Rob Gronkowski. Yes, that Rob Gronkowski who is considered the best tight end in the game and is on a track to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Saying that was a blown assignment might be the understatement of the season.

However, as bad as that was, the 2016 defense is light years ahead of their 2015 unit, at least at this point in the season.

What makes such a difference? According to safety Mike Mitchell it is all about getting comfortable playing alongside one another.

"We didn't really have to learn how each other thinks or anything," Mitchell told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's just a natural progression of guys playing together in the same scheme. We have some new guys,€” Artie B. and Sean D.,€” we're still bringing them up to speed. But I'm happy with the progress we made as a group."

The core group he is referring to is the cohesion between Ross Cockrell, William Gay and Robert Golden. Cockrell and Golden saw significant snaps in 2015, which was the foundation for their hopeful 2016 success.

"The thing that is difficult about the secondary is we're spread out across the field," Mitchell said. "If you don't know exactly what guys are thinking it's hard to get the communication. But when you're playing with someone every day and you're in meetings with someone every day, there are some things that don't even need to be said. I already know what they're thinking. Me and Rob G., and especially Will, when we're working on our disguises and things, we don't even have to say things. I just see how he's moving, see where his body is at and I already know how he's thinking and how he's going to play things."

As for Golden, who will become a defensive starter Week 1, he puts the onus on Mitchell as the captain of the secondary.

"I feel like Mike knows this defense inside and out," Golden said. "I've been around and know the defense inside and out. We're interchangeable. I can play strong and he can play free. He can play strong and I can play free. We're veteran guys with Willie Gay and Ross on the other side. Guys know the defense and you're able to disguise a little more and do different things when guys are interchangeable."

That all sounds well and good, but the reality of the situation is this team will have to rely on young players in some way, shape or form. Sean Davis is most likely the starting slot cornerback in the first week, and Artie Burns could be called on later in the season if injuries equate to him being thrust into the spotlight. With that said, how are the young bucks doing?

"They're picking it up," Golden said. "At the end of the day, it comes down to experience. Once guys get experience I feel like they're going to be OK. When you get more reps the better you get. I know that could be said for me last year. When I started playing a lot, I got more comfortable. I feel like the same thing will happen for the younger guys."

There will be skeptics, and rightfully so, but the 30th ranked pass defense really has only one way to go -- up. After all, there was a play where they forgot to guard Rob Gronkowski...