The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed two of the five safeties that they had on their roster last season to walk off uncontested via free agency this offseason, as Will Allen signed with the Dallas Cowboys and Ryan Mundy signed with the New York Giants. The exodus of those two players left the Steelers with second year undrafted free agent Robert Golden as the only backup safety on the roster with game experience, albeit not a lot.
As expected, the Steelers addressed the safety position in the draft by trading into round four in order to select Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas. Like Golden, Thomas is versatile and Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake talked about that versatility following his draft selection.
"The great thing about this young man is if you were in a pinch and you didn’t want to put the nickel package out there and you wanted him to play man-to-man on the slot, he could do it, "said Lake. "He has done it in big games already against some of the receivers that have been drafted in the first two rounds, and he shut them down. That is the kind of safety I like. That is the kind of safety that the Steelers are looking for. Not only will he cover well, but he will hit you and hit you hard."
While defensive rookies very seldom see playing time in Pittsburgh, Golden saw action in three games in his first season thanks mostly in part to all of the injuries the Steelers suffered in their secondary. With that being said, the Arizona product still only received just less than 50 defensive snaps of playing time, which is not even the equivalent of a full game.
Unless the Steelers sign a veteran free agent safety such as former Steeler Chris Hope or James Sanders to the roster between now and the start of the season, Golden stands the best chance to backup both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark in 2013 until Thomas is up to speed with the scheme, which according to Lake could take a full year.
"The reason why I don’t think our scheme will be an issue for him, especially after a year under his belt, is because he’s played so many positions for Syracuse," said Lake about Thomas. "So he hasn’t been pigeonholed in one position. He’s played multiple positions and what that tells me is the kid has some intelligence because you can’t just switch a guy from safety in a deep path to safety in the box to nickel-back to corner and him not knowing what he’s doing."
As far Golden, I would look for him to get quite a bit of playing time during the preseason this year, and that goes for Thomas too, for that matter, in order to have both prepared as much as possible should either Polamalu or Clark miss time in 2013 with injuries.
The aforementioned Allen and Mundy combined to play well over 700 snaps last year at safety due to Polamalu missing an extended amount of time with a calf injury, so Golden needs to be prepared for that kind of worse case scenario, if indeed he enters the season as the next man up at the position, which by the looks of things in early May, he is.