The last couple of seasons, the Steelers' secondary has been much maligned, and with good reason. They've finished in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed and made average quarterbacks look like the second coming of Joe Montana. There are a lot of new faces this year, and a lot of questions surrounding the men who make up the Steelers' defensive secondary.
Time to look at the depth chart, and ask the question: Is this depth chart good enough to win a Super Bowl?
If the season started today, William Gay and Ross Cockrell are the starters on the outside and Senquez Golson gets the nod at the slot, by virtue of having a full year to learn the system, despite never getting on the field last season. Behind them are last year's fourth rounder, Doran Grant and 2016 first round pick Artie Burns, who have exactly zero professional games worth of experience. Donald Washington, who played three years for Kansas City, is the only remaining corner with NFL game experience. In three years he started 5 games, recorded one forced fumble and defended two passes. The last name in this group is second year player Al-Hajj Shabazz.
I'm fairly confident in Gay and Cockrell, and have real high hopes for Golson and Burns. Both were praised for their athleticism and ball skills in the respective drafts. If the depth on paper realizes it's full potential, then the Steelers will enjoy some quality depth at corner on game days.
Going into training camp the top two spots are manned by Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden. Barring injury, Mitchell retains his spot and has earned the right to do so. Golden has shown that he knows the position and is a safe option to line up next to Mitchell in Week 1. This year's second round pick, Sean Davis, is intriguing. I don't expect him to wait long for his opportunity, if only because of his high draft position. He's tall, fast and agile; in other words, a perfect option for covering the tall, speedy tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. Davis' only limitations will be his ability to master the playbook.
A lot has been said about Shamarko Thomas, whom the Steelers traded up for four years ago. According to the coaching staff, and what we've seen on game days, he has the physical tools but hasn't fully processed the mental part of his game. He's been out of position on defense and even had interference penalties on kickoffs. Is this the year that he puts it all together and gets a shot in sub packages, or will he be relegated to special teams duties again? What about Jordan Dangerfield? Does he stand in the way of Thomas making any kind of impact? There also remains the possibility of a Will Allen reunion if Thomas, Dangerfield or even Davis, fail to impress during training camp.
I went on record a while ago with the prediction that the defense, especially the secondary, would turn things around from last year and be vastly improved. I still believe this is a possibility given the influx of physically talented youngsters the Steelers have invested in over the last two drafts. I like the look of the depth chart in the secondary, and if defensive coordinator Keith Butler and secondary coach Carnell Lake can push the rookies, and the vets like Thomas, in the right direction, this unit will be an asset and not a liability for the 2016-2017 season. If the next men up can figure out the mental part of the game, then this will be a very exciting defense to watch and one which should be more than capable of helping the Steelers climb that fabled 'Stairway to Seven'.