Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake was seemingly just like everybody else this past May, having read all the pre-draft press and speculation.
He assumed, as so many did, that the Steelers would draft a wide receiver early in the process. He also assumed that they would make his job much more difficult by taking another cornerback early as well, perhaps as early as the first round.
Make no mistake: Blake is a player with no shortage of confidence, much in contrast to his short-for-the-position 5’9” stature. Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider quotes him as describing himself as a “fierce competitor” and explaining that his mindset is “to work my way to No. 1” on the cornerback depth chart.
But it would be hard for him to deny that he was relieved as the rounds ticked by without the Steelers adding premium competition to what already figures to be a fringe roster battle for him and the other cornerbacks behind the top three on the depth chart.
“After reading all the reports prior to the draft I thought, like everyone else, they were going to go with a corner in the first or second round”, he is quoted by Ray Fittipaldo for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as saying. “After they didn’t, I felt like my situation became a little bit better”.
It certainly did, and with Ike Taylor still finishing off some training in Florida, Blake began OTAs practicing as the nickel back behind starters Cortez Allen and William Gay. This would certainly not have been the case a year ago.
Of course, a year ago, he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, with whom he’d signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 in large part because it was in close proximity to where he had grown up, and he rooted for the Jaguars even after moving to Texas.
He knows better, however, in retrospect. “In hindsight”, he told reporters recently, “I should have come here first and become a Steeler”.
It could have made his life easier last season, because it took him some time to get acclimated to his new environment after the Steelers claimed him off waivers just before the beginning of the regular season when the Jaguars released him.
It took a minute to get comfortable, about Week 5 was when I got into the groove and was consistently playing on the special teams. As far as the playbook, it was about picking up the smaller details. In the NFL, it’s not always about the big picture. It’s the small little things you can mess up that can change the whole dynamic of the situation.
Regardless of his knowledge of the playbook, however, he figures to make the roster anyway, after making himself an indispensable part of the Steelers’ coverage units on special teams as the season progressed. He recorded 11 special teams tackles, including three against the Detroit Lions, though he did have a hiccup or two late in the season against the Green Bay Packers.
For Blake, however, while he understands that special teams is critical not only to the team but to his professional future, that’s not where his mind is.
He wants to begin contributing on defense, and he figures to be part of a hot competition for playing time at dime back that could figure to include Brice McCain, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, and perhaps even Robert Golden.