Numbers Crunch: Turning The Secondary Up To 11

When looking back at the roster during the 2013 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one thing that sticks out to me is just how little turnover there is in the secondary. I say this with the awareness of the glaring caveat of longtime starting free safety Ryan Clark being replaced with the rare significant free agent signing of Mike Mitchell.

Other than that, however, it seems that just about everybody short of Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith is back in the mix this year, and I’m willing to bet that you probably didn’t even remember that he started last year on the roster. Curtis Brown is also out of the picture, though he would likely be continuing his recovery from an ACL tear by the time the regular season starts in September.

As a matter of fact, the Steelers have only added to the competition, signing cornerback Brice McCain for veteran minimum during free agency while drafting Shaquille Richardson, another cornerback, in the fifth round of the draft.

The Steelers traditionally like to carry 10 defensive backs, and in a normal season, they tend to split them up between six cornerbacks and four safeties.

Because of the versatility of some of their young safeties that they have around now, however, they have been keeping five of each the last couple years, since both Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden are capable of playing cornerback.

Given the additions that the Steelers have made in the secondary, then, I can’t help but wonder if the team is giving serious consideration to carrying 11 defensive backs, given the key role that many of them already play on special teams.

The following players, to me, would seem to be locks to make and stick to the 53-man roster from the secondary, whether because of their defense or their special teams contributions: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Troy Polamalu, Mitchell, Thomas, and Golden.

That’s already eight roster spots allotted to the secondary. Then you have Will Allen, who has played a huge role over the last two seasons on defense, contributes on special teams, and whom the Steelers were quick to re-sign after they lost him to an opportunity to start elsewhere at the beginning of last season. He practiced with the starters during OTAs while Polamalu was working out on his own.

McCain is a veteran nickel corner about whom defensive backs coach Carnell Lake spoke of positively earlier this offseason, along with Blake, as some of the lesser known players he believes may surprise those who questioned the team’s depth at cornerback.

Then there’s Richardson, who seems to be doing perfectly well for himself so far and showing good awareness of scheme as his coaches and teammates keep him on his toes. What’s more, he’s the only corner outside of the starting lineup that is six foot or taller.

This is not even to mention Isaiah Green, who spent last season bouncing between the active roster and the practice squad after initially making the final cut, and Devin Smith, who impressed enough to last the entire season on the practice squad a year ago.

It’s true that nobody will be mistaking these players for All-Pros any time soon, but many of them figure to have the potential to be stars on special teams at the very least, while slowly creeping up on contributing on defense.

The worst case scenario, other than injury, is that the Steelers have some strong competition this year to assemble their defensive backfield, with tough cuts to follow. Maybe one cut they choose not to make and decide to keep one more from the secondary than usual.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    They certainly could, say they keep 6DL not 7, 8OL not 9, 3TEs instead of 4, those spots will most likely go to LB and CB

  • Paddy

    They could use a pass catching TE after Miller more than a DB. Right now they don’t own one.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    The final 53-man roster makeup will be interesting. They will have some tough choices. I think it will be as follows: QB – 3; RB – 4 (including Will Johnson); WR – 5; TE – 4; OL – 9; DL – 6; LB – 8; CB – 6; S – 5, Special Teams – 3. I think they could wind up keeping 9 LB’s, and reduce the TE’s to 3, so we’ll see.

  • DoctorNoah

    How many other teams waste a spot on a long snapper? Can’t an all-pro center like Pouncey learn to long snap??

  • Bill Sechrengost

    I guess they could always keep Bryce Davis as their fourth TE, who is also shown as a LS on the Steelers website.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I don’t consider Golden a lock nor Blake.

  • steeltown

    Most, if not all have a LS on roster

  • steeltown

    I agree about the 3TEs, I could also see 5CBs instead of 6 with another LB making the club (10DBs and 10LBs)

  • Big White

    Shamarko Thomas can play corner??? Really? I’ve never heard that til now, but ok, great!!! I love physical cornerbacks. If that’s the case than I don’t see the need for 11.

  • Big White

    If this unit just plays an a grade of “B”, the Steelers will be 11-5. Panning out to a grade of “D” is another 8-8 year. The secondary by far the biggest wildcard of 2014′.

  • AndyR34

    I think injuries during training camp and preseason (and there very likely will be some) will help sort out this/these question(s).

  • joed32

    He played quite a bit of slot corner early last year until he got hurt, but you won’t see him play outside.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Both are definitely locks because they’re core special teamers.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, long snapper is pretty much standard league-wide. I’m not sure if any team doesn’t currently have a dedicated long snapper.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I still don’t agree with it. They were core special team players LAST year. There was a time Fox was a core special team player, in fact he was special team captain. If I remember right, the next year he was let to leave. Let me say this, if Player A can play special teams AND play a part on D, then Player B who only plays on special teams…..goes home.

  • Matthew Marczi

    By core special teamers I mean they were literally the two best players on special teams last year. Danny Smith more or less has huge sway when it comes to the bottom of the roster. And Both of them played on defense last year, anyway. Blake is the fourth cornerback, and Golden plays two positions. In my mind, they are locks, and barring injury or one of them completely falling off a cliff or something (or the Steelers signing somebody else), if one of them doesn’t make the roster, I’ll give you $10.