April 2015. Speculation surrounded the Pittsburgh Steelers, and whether the team would draft break from tradition to select it's first cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott was taken by the team in 1997.
Entering the 2015 NFL Draft, the Steelers were one of two teams with the longest drought at taking a corner with their top pick; the Kansas City Chiefs were the other team, who selected Marcus Peters, while the Steelers took another linebacker, leaving Pittsburgh as the lone team to hold out the longest on picking a player at the position.
After the first day of the draft, the ire of Steelers Nation would be subdued when the Steelers used the 56th overall pick to select Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson on the 2nd day of the draft. Golson was undersized, but had tied the Ole Miss school record with 10 interceptions in his senior year.
Finally: the Steelers would repair what had been a terrible pass defense.
Or so it seemed.
Golson started training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, due to a shoulder injury. The team would announce in mid-August that Golson's injury would require surgery: he would never appear in any game (preseason or regular season) for the entire 2015 campaign.
The Steelers traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for Golson's replacement, Brandon Boykin, a highly thought of slot corner and a polarizing figure during his time with the Steelers. Boykin never materialized into the player coaches and fans had expected, and was allowed to leave via free agency earlier this year. The move, along with drafting two defensive backs in this year's NFL Draft (CB Artie Burns from Miami and S/CB Sean Davis from Maryland) raised excitement that the Steelers secondary was the path to recovery.
With essentially three new players contributing to the league's 30th ranked pass defense in 2015, Pittsburgh was poised to improve. (Note: I think they still are.)
Then, bad luck struck Golson again: a mid-foot injury as first reported by coach Mike Tomlin turned into a more serious Lisfranc injury, which required surgery.
The timetable for Golson's return is still up in the air, with reports listing as little as 12 weeks, and as many as 6 months, before the defender could return. Despite the gray area that is Golson's recovery time, one thing is black-and-white thus far:
No Senquez Golson on IR not surprising.Tomlin typically waits until after surgery (if there is surgery) 2 make sure diagnosis doesn't change— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) August 3, 2016
The Steelers are holding out on their decision on how to handle Golson's situation. On one hand, we're roughly five weeks from the start of the regular season: the team could wait out during the short-term to monitor Golson's recovery. Though unlikely, he could be back with the team shortly after the season begins.
On the other hand, Golson could be out much longer: the team would have to place the maligned corner on Injured Reserve, and use their designation to return down the road, should they feel they would benefit from Golson's rejoining the team.
That decision appears to be the hold-up on an official Golson announcement.
In March of this year, the league's owners passed a change proposed by the Buffalo Bills:
The new bylaw will allow teams to choose one player to return to practice among their players already on injured reserve, provided that player has spent at least six weeks on injured reserve. That player would then be able to return to the active roster and play in a game two weeks later.
The reason this rule change is significant, is that the Steelers would not be bound to designating Golson as the player to return in advance. The previous rule required teams to designate a player for return at the time they were placed on IR. The returning player would then be eligible to return to practice six weeks later, and play two weeks following that period.
The Steelers are no stranger to designating players to return: David DeCastro went through the process during his rookie season, while Maurkice Pouncey broke his ankle in last year's preseason. In both cases, those players designations to return were set in stone. Pouncey had suffered complications in his recovery, and never came back in 2015; had another Steeler went down to injury, the team wouldn't have been able to bring them back.
Now Pittsburgh can take a "wait and see" approach, should they make the likely move of placing Golson on IR. If another injury occurs to a major contributing player during the preseason, the Steelers will have to make a tough decision on who to bring back, as they are only able to use one designation. This is beneficial for the Steelers, as Golson has never seen NFL action. Should the worst case scenario occur, it's likely the team would bring back the "other injured player" in lieu of an inexperienced corner: Golson would then be lost for the season.
At the moment, Pittsburgh can stand pat until August 30th, when rosters are trimmed from 90 to 75. The front office will then have several more days until the September 3rd deadline to reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the Active/Inactive List.
The Steelers made the move w CB Kevin White (TCU) but didn't put Senquez Golson on IR, instead waiving TE Mandel Dixon, WR Shakim Phillips.— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) August 3, 2016
Depending on how the other defensive backs in camp perform, we could see a decision made sooner, or later, but for the time being, Pittsburgh appears to be content on moving mountains in order to make the determination which is best for their season.
Joe is the founder of Steel City Underground, a Pittsburgh Steelers blog and podcast. Follow SCU on Facebook and Twitter.