By Matthew Marczi
One of the surprise inactives for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Week One loss was one of their late acquisitions, cornerback Antwon Blake. The Steelers released cornerback Isaiah Green (later re-signing him to the practice squad) in order to make room for Blake on the roster, yet he was a game day inactive.
A diminutive defensive back, Blake had unsurprisingly carved out a niche in the league as an undrafted rookie last season with the Jacksonville Jaguars by displaying an aptitude for special teams play. He led the team in special teams tackles in 2012, yet was released in the final cuts a few weeks ago.
Was he inactive simply because he was not yet up to speed on special teams coach Danny Smith’s system, as was also the case for Cody Wallace along the offensive line? If so, will he be active this week, and over whom?
Curtis Brown has established himself over the course of his first two seasons as the team’s best special teams player, leading the team in tackles on special teams during both seasons, and he continued his strong work in the opening game by recording a tackle and forcing another punt to be fair caught.
Meanwhile, rookie safety Shamarko Thomas had a great preseason establishing himself as a viable option as the opposite gunner, which is the role that he fulfilled in Week One, and he showed well by shedding a blocker to make a tackle.
What’s more, safety Robert Golden also registered two tackles on special teams, and Markus Wheaton showed potential as well. If these players continue to do well in their special teams roles, when—and where—will Blake be able to fit in?
The most likely role that he can usurp will be taking over Cortez Allen’s special teams responsibilities. Allen played four snaps on special teams in the first half before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
Should Allen be unable to play, one would have to think that Blake is a lock to dress, because the Steelers have just five cornerbacks as it is, despite the fact that both Thomas and Golden are capable of covering as well.
William Gay is also a contributor on special teams, though not as much as he once was. Even Ike Taylor played seven snaps on special teams. There are plenty of snaps to subsume for Blake whenever the coaching staff deems him up to speed on his special teams responsibilities.
In doing so, it should help relieve some of the special teams responsibilities of major defensive contributors, including the team’s top three cornerbacks.