Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers have taken the safety position very seriously this free agency period, they none the less have continued to do their due diligence when it comes to scouting the top of the draft class at the position, bringing in Calvin Pryor for a visit yesterday.
The Steelers traded their 2014 third-round draft pick last year to draft Shamarko Thomas. This offseason, they have worked out an extension with Troy Polamalu, re-signed Will Allen, and replaced Ryan Clark with Mike Mitchell.
So then why are the Steelers still looking at Pryor? Surely they couldn’t still be considering him a candidate for drafting in the first round. Or could they be? And what if he falls to the second round, which is not impossible?
This could be more than just doing due diligence, getting their homework done. And by this I mean continuing to very seriously consider the safety position, not specifically taking a look at Pryor yesterday.
Back at the owners meetings, head coach Mike Tomlin talked extensively about the importance of sub-package football and how defenses play as often as not these days with five and six defensive backs on the field. The Steelers alone got extensive work out of quarters safeties last season, including Thomas, Allen, and even Robert Golden.
During that conversation, Tomlin talked specifically about the back end of the defense:
“I think a component of this defense is great safety play,” Tomlin said. “It’s something that I’ve been around since the early days for me as a professional. I’ve been around guys like (former Buccaneers safeties) John Lynch and Dexter Jackson.
“And rightfully so, I think that if you’re interested in playing good defense, you better have guys at the safety position who can insert themselves vs. the run and can be what they need to be in the passing game.”
The Steelers have been spoiled over the past decade by having a superstar-quality player at the safety position in Polamalu. No matter how good Mitchell or Thomas end up being, chances are they’ll never rise to the level of Polamalu, through which, in many ways, this defense has run through the years.
So it wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers don’t just twiddle their thumbs when it comes to looking at safeties. Polamalu is on his way out the door, and they have no guarantees in front of them about the future. Other than Polamalu, only Allen has starting experience at safety on this defense.
The Seattle Seahawks have an All-Pro safety. The Denver Broncos just added T.J. Ward. Maybe the Steelers think that Mitchell can approach that level for them. But what about Thomas? He seems more ideally suited for the quarters safety role rather than as a starter. I don’t think the Steelers are off the market for a starting safety over the next couple offseasons.