Could a cycle be forming? In Pittsburgh’s 2019 home opening loss, the Kansas City Chiefs used and abused the Steelers secondary revealing it as a major weakness that needed to be corrected. To be sure, Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds stepped up their play from that awful day to begin making improvements during the season.
And now, as a first off season step towards shoring up that secondary the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed cornerback Steve Nelson from the Chiefs.
If reports are correct, Steve Nelson’s contract is for 3 years and $25.5 million, although there is no information on guarantees and signing bonuses at this point. Nelson cannot “officially” sign with Steelers at until 4:00 pm today.
Steve Nelson attempts to tackle Antonio Brown in the Steelers 2016 playoff win over the Chiefs. Photo Credit: Twitter
Given the money the Steelers are paying him, Steve Nelson will undoubtedly be slotted as the starter opposite Joe Haden. The move also ensures that the Steelers will not pick up the 5th year option on Artie Burns, although exercising that option would have been insane under any circumstances given Artie Burns track record.
Steelers First Big Free Agent Move at Cornerback in 20 Years
Cornerback has been a sore spot for the Steelers defense since at least Super Bowl XLV if not before. Despite that, the Steelers Steve Nelson signing is the first time the franchise has made a big-name free agent signing at cornerback since bringing Dwayne Washington to Pittsburgh in 1998.
By any measure, Steve Nelson is a counts as a major free agent signing by the Steelers. In 2018, he totaled 68 tackles, defensed 15 passes and made four interceptions. That 4 interception total tops the season high-total for any Steelers player since Troy Polamalu recorded 7 interceptions in 2010.
However, those were the first interceptions of Steve Nelson’s career.
That shouldn’t be necessarily be considered as an ominous sign – as Nelson had 16 passed defensed in 2016 and many scouts will tell you the passes defensed is a better performance metric for judging defensive backs.
Welcome to Steelers Nation Steve Nelson.
Steelers Free Agent News Coming Fast and Furious
While players cannot officially sign until 4:00 pm, a lot has already happened. Jesse James is headed to Detroit and Le’Veon Bell is flying off to the New York Jets. However, Anthony Chickillo will be returning to Pittsburgh.
Stay tuned. Steel Curtain Rising will have more in depth commentary on the moves above.
Cornerback is one of the most demanding, thankless positions in football. The NFL with its fantasy football fueled love affair with inflating passing stats, makes it harder and harder for cornerbacks to their job.
Finding quality cornerbacks is tough for every NFL team, and a challenge has bedeviled Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers since Super Bowl XLV.
Could the Steelers find part of their answer at cornerback by looking in house? As Coty Sensabaugh reaches free agency that question means much more to him than anyone else on the South Side.
Coty Sensabaugh breaks up a pass intended for Michael Crabtree. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Capsule Profile of Coty Sensabaugh Steelers Career
It was a great story line, except for the fact that with Joe Haden out of the line up, the Steelers started giving up a 57 yard pass ever half. And while all of this certainly wasn’t on Coty Sensabaugh, a big part of it was so much that Steelers coaches basically activated Cam Sutton off of the PAP list and started rotating him with Sensabaugh.
Fast forward to 2018. All summer we hear how working day-to-day with Antonio Brown has finally readied Artie Burns. Cam Sutton and Brian Allen are coming along. Many thought that Coty Sensabaugh would be the odd man out.
Yet Artie Burns struggled mightily, causing coaches to rotate Coty Sensabaugh with Burns, and then ultimately bench Burns in favor of Sensabaugh. After that, you didn’t hear much about Coty Sensabaugh, and often times that’s the highest complement you can pay a cornerback.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning Coty Sensabaugh
Coty Sensabaugh isn’t “The Answer” for the Pittsburgh Steelers at cornerback. In 2017 one would have been hard-pressed to argue that Coty Sensabaugh anything but a liability for a Steelers defense in free fall.
While the Steelers defense still has long way to go, the unit did improve in 2018.
And Coty Sensabaugh was a part of that improvement. Yes, the Steelers need an injection of talent at cornerback, but they also need competence. Neither Artie Burns, Cam Sutton or Brian Allen has proven they can provide that. Coty Sensabaugh has.
The Steelers should keep him in Pittsburgh.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Coty Sensabaugh
While the Steelers are very far from salary cap hell, they don’t have a lot of space to spare on mid-level talent. And the Steelers track record at drafting cornerbacks is abysmal.
If the Steelers are going to look to fill a need at cornerback via free agency, then doesn’t it make sense to do it on a someone who has legit playmaking ability, rather than someone who is “serviceable?”
The Steelers could do worse at corner than Coty Sensabaugh, but they need to invest their free agent dollars in players than make them better instead of just being “not worse.”
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Coty Sensabaugh
This is a hard call to make. Outside of the signing of Tyson Alualu it has been all quiet on the South Side front in terms of contract extensions. That might not mean anything, as recent history has shown the Steelers to be as likely to resign their own players after free agency begins as they are before.
Coty Sensabaugh offers the perfect example of why you can never let the perfect stand in the way of the good.
Or the serviceable. The Pittsburgh Steelers need an injection of talent at cornerback, far beyond what Coty Sensabaugh can give them on his best day. But Coty Sensabaugh gives them competence at a position where it is sorely needed, and the Steelers would be wise to sign him to a modest 2 year deal.
Después de mucho tiempo sin dar muestras de vida, decidí reencontrarme con aquellos pocos que seguían mis cavilaciones en Steel Curtain Rising.
Me hubiese gustado volver para comentar una victoria en el Super Bowl 53…
En lugar de eso me mueve la curiosidad de poder desentrañar el “misterio” de por qué un equipo tan talentoso no pudo siquiera acceder a los playoffs…
Como se hace en las organizaciones, se me ocurrió revisar los números del balance de esta temporada. Ver cuales son los “debe” y cuales los “haber”.
Asique mis amigos, hoy toca AUDITORÍA…!!
Mike Tomlin faces the biggest challenge of his coaching career. Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP via Tribune Review
Las razones del fracaso
Durante la grabación de uno de los podcasts (finalmente no emitido) de Steelers 360, al que fui invitado por el querido Carlos Ortega, decía yo, que atribuía el pobre resultado de la temporada regular a dos causas:
Pero ¿qué significa pobre ejecución?. Siguiendo con el ejemplo de las evaluaciones de las organizaciones, ¿Cuáles son los indicadores de pobre ejecución? ¿Puede uno analizando las estadísticas del juego llegar a alguna conclusión que explique los hechos? o ¿hay acaso razones que no se plasman en fríos números?
Dice el erudito italiano Umberto Eco que la estadística es una disciplina tan manipulable que si hay dos personas y dos pollos, a través de esta ciencia yo podría concluir que cada una comió un pollo aunque haya sido sólo una la que comió… Advertido de que los números no lo explican todo o que, por el contrario, parecen decir más de lo que hay, voy a adentrarme en esta cuestión y veremos qué encuentro.
En esta primera entrega me voy a dedicar a poner bajo el microscopio los turnovers.
El arte de dispararse al pie
Comencemos diciendo que, esta temporada quedamos en segundo lugar (y fuera de playoffs) en la división norte de la AFC, detrás de los Ravens por un solo partido. Quiero decir que si hubiésemos ganado sólo un juego más, hubiera habido mes de enero para los Steelers. ¿Qué partido? ¿Denver? ¿Chargers? ¿Oakland? ¿el primer juego contra Baltimore? Escojan el que gusten. Todos y cada uno de ellos estuvo a tiro de pedrada.
Y los perdimos. Sólo hizo falta ganar un juego más.
Es sabido por todos que si un equipo entrega el ovoide la mitad de las veces en las que anota, es esperable que se estrelle contra una pared. Y eso sucedió con los Steelers.
Explico: el porcentaje de series ofensivas que finalizaron en anotación fue de 36,8% mientras que las series que terminaban en entregas de balón fue de 14,3%. Es decir que por cada 10 series anotadoras, 4 terminaban entregando el ovoide.
El turnover ratio de la temporada fue de – 11
La relación TD/INT fue de 2:1
Los partidos en donde más “generosos” estuvimos con el adversario fueron el empate contra Cleveland (TO ratio -5), la victoria que debió ser derrota contra Jacksonville (-2) y la derrota contra Denver (-4)
Si tomamos las derrotas solamente, allí el ratio es de -11.
En las victorias es 0
La cantidad de puntos recibidos gracias a esas entregas, totalizaron 58, equivalente al 16% del total de los puntos recibidos en toda la temporada.
La diferencia entre puntos anotados y puntos recibidos en toda la temporada fue de 68. Puede decirse entonces, que casi toda esta diferencia provino de entregas de balón
En ocasiones las defensivas enmiendan los errores de ofensivas entregadoras, obligando a despejar y evitando que el equipo beneficiado con el turnover cargue con puntos el tanteador. Otras veces no solo ocurre lo contrario sino que esos puntos cedidos determinan el destino del partido.
En la semana 1, en el último cuarto, con los Steelers arriba por 14 en el marcador, James Conner soltó el balón. La respuesta de los locales fueron 7 puntos. En la siguiente serie acerera, fue Big Ben Roethlisberger quien pierde el ovoide. La respuesta no fue inmediata pero los Browns lograron el empate 2 series después y obligaron a jugar tiempo extra. Ya en overtime B. Roethlisberger volvió a soltar el ovoide poniendo a los Browns en situación de ganar el partido si convertían un gol de campo que terminó siendo bloqueado por T.J. Watt.
Semana 4. En casa contra los Ravens. El resultado de las series ofensivas durante la segunda mitad fue: Punt-Punt-Punt-Punt-INT-downs. La intercepción se dió cuando los Ravens ganaban por 9 puntos de diferencia.
Ya más adelante en la temporada, en Mile High. Xavier Grimble tuvo una epifanía y por un instante se imaginó siendo Vance McDonald y supuso que podría atravesar el cuerpo del defensivo que venía a cubrir lo que ya era un TD casi inevitable…
Choque de cabezas, balón mal protegido por Grimble, knock out para el ala cerrada, balón suelto en la línea de gol que se pierde por la zona de anotación, touchback… Se perdieron 7 puntos que hubieran sido vitales para ganar el partido.
Xavier Grimble thinks he has a touchdown, but Will Parks is about to force a fumble. Photo Credit: Jack Dempsey, AP via Tribune-Reivew
Se disputaba el 3er cuarto con los Steelers arriba en el marcador por 17 a 10. En 2 series seguidas se entregó la posesión (INT- fumble) y en ambas los locales anotaron de a siete. Para finalizar el encuentro, Big Ben lanzó una intercepción a la zona de anotación, faltando poco más de un minuto, desde la yarda 2 de Denver que selló el destino del partido.
No todas las entregas de balón valen lo mismo. La estadística puede sobrevalorar el item TO. Sin embargo otras veces implican cambios del momentum del partido, otras veces puntos, cuando no la mismísima derrota.
La historia de nuestro equipo contará que en la temporada 2018, quedamos fuera de la postemporada, segundos en la división, a un juego, detrás del campeón divisional, Baltimore Ravens, que alistaron como titular por gran parte de la temporada al QB novato Lamar “Venus de Milo” Jackson.
Para concluir, en esta temporada tuvimos: 1 – un diferencial de turnovers lapidario, y 2 – el diferencial de puntos anotados y recibidos puede atribuirse completamente a entregas de balón. Pero hay más (y esto no está reflejado en las estadísticas… 3- Varias de estas entregas de balón significaron la derrota
Como veremos en próximos episodios, las entregas de balón no fueron las únicas calamidades que debieron enfrentar los Steelers, un equipo con muchos records de top 10. Tal vez por eso, dolió tanto este final.
It was a fun evening for the Steelers, who prevailed over the Panthers, 39-24, in their fourth and final preseason game, Thursday night at Heinz Field. It was fun for the rookies and roster hopefuls, because the spotlight was on them. It was also fun for the veterans, because most didn’t have to play.
Joshua Dobbs scores touchdown in preseason. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
Quarterbacks Second-year man Joshua Dobbs was the talk of the town, following Thursday’s final tuneup. “Should they keep Dobbs and get rid of backup Landry Jones?” many wondered quite vocally. And, why? Because Dobbs, who started and played most of the first half, put the finishing touches on a fine preseason, this time, completing eight of 12 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. Dobbs even added 18 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
Rookie Mason Rudolph also looked sharp, connecting on five of his nine passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Rudolph also showed off his legs (and mean-streak) by taking it in himself on a two-point attempt and then giving the business to the linebacker who was flagged for hitting him late after he crossed the goal line. Sure, these youngsters were going up against fourth and fifth-stringers, but impressive is impressive, so….. Grade: A-
Running Backs Veteran Stevan Ridley looked impressive as the workhorse, toting the rock eight times for 39 yards. Other than Ridley, no other Steelers running back did much. Although, unknown Jarvion Franklin perhaps fulfilled a childhood dream by scoring a touchdown under the bright lights. Grade: C
Wide Receivers It was a quiet night for the receivers who are locks to make the team. As for those hopefuls? While it was likely too little, too late for him, Tevin Jones did put something on tape with two scores. And Pitt’s Quadree Henderson scored a seven-yard touchdown in the same venue where he had many as a college player. It was another subpar night (and perhaps final night in black-and-gold) for Trey Griffey and Damoun Patterson, who combined for one catch for 15 yards. Grade: C
Tight Ends Can you believe a Steelers’ tight end did something? That would be Bucky Hodges, who pulled in two passes for 43 yards–including a 36-yard reception that set up a touchdown. As for Jesse James, Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble? They were all nursing injuries of varying degrees, and we can only hope that one of them will be ready for Week-1 in Cleveland. Grade: D
Offensive Linemen As you might expect, the Steelers starting linemen used up their remaining sick days on Thursday, but those super-subs, namely Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney and rookie tackle Chuks Okorafor acquitted themselves quite well, limiting Carolina to one sack. The Steelers also rushed for 108 yards as a team, so all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad night for Pittsburgh’s notable offensive line depth. Grade: B+
Defensive Linemen It was also an uneventful night for the veterans of this unit, and of those youngsters and veterans looking to crack the talented defensive line, not much stood out. Although, Lavon Hooks did record a sack. Also, Carolina only rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries. Grade: C
Linebackers Wow, after yet another impressive showing by Matthew Thomas, who tallied 11 tackles–including six solo–and recorded a strip-sack, recovered the fumble out of the air, and then proceeded to race 75 yards down to the Carolina one-yard line, one has to wonder if the UDFA out of Florida State is already the Steelers’ most-talented inside linebacker. That opinion will be proven over time, of course, but there’s no doubt Thomas cemented his spot on the final roster. Speaking of UDFAs who cemented a roster spot, Steelers’ fans better learn how to spell Olasunkanmi Adeniyi’s name, because the youngster recorded his third preseason sack. Grade: A
Secondary Rookie fifth-round pick, Marcus Allen, got plenty of reps at the safety position, along with plenty of tackles (10 and six solo). Second-year corner Brian Allen likely locked up his place on the roster with nine total tackles. As for Mr. Preseason, safety Jordan Dangerfield, he added five tackles. Will this be enough for the veteran to hold onto his job? Grade: B
Special Teams The newly-acquired Ryan Switzer returned two kickoffs for 43 yards, while Henderson had 29 yards on his lone attempt. Punter Matt Wile may have ousted veteran Jordan Berry by averaging 50 yards on three punts. As for the coverage units, nothing alarming stood out. Grade: B-
Coaching Not much you can say about coaching in a game like this. When you have a bunch of down-the-liners going up against a bunch of down-the-liners, you can throw strategy out the window. The only thing you can really grade is whether or not the head coach protected enough key veterans from injury. And with the exception of the gruesome knee injury suffered by Malik Golden (who obviously doesn’t have the cachet to sit out a fourth preseason game), it was a job well-done. Grade: A
As legend has it, Super Bowl XLV badly exposed the Steelers at cornerback and cornerback has been Pittsburgh’s persistent draft needs since then.
Like most legends, this is founded upon truth.
While Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown and a few others Super Bowl XLV veterans remain, cornerback has sat atop any reasonable assessment of the Steelers needs in just about every NFL draft since then.
Should the 2018 NFL Draft be different? Let’s take a look.
Joe Haden’s 1st Steelers interception. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn Live
Steelers Cornerback Depth Chart Entering the 2018 NFL Draft – the Starter
In successive off seasons, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin answered the pleas of Steelers Nation to address the cornerback position with a high profile move. In the 2016 NFL draft the Steelers took Artie Burns in the first round. Then, at the tail end of the 2017 preseason, Cleveland Browns cut Joe Haden and Pittsburgh promptly pounced.
After getting his feet wet in the slot for a few games as a rookie, Burns went on to start where he had his ups and downs. By the end of the season, however Burns was making plays and had proven himself to be an asset to the Steelers secondary.
Burns’ sophomore season did not go smoothly. Burns struggled at times, often against the deep ball. In Steel City InsiderCraig Wolfley generously opined, “Artie Burns didn’t get worse, but he didn’t get better, either.”
People forget (and perhaps rightfully so) that during the first half of 2017, the Steelers defense flashed signs of shut-down level greatness. (The debacle in Chicago aside.)
The reason for that flirtation with greatness can largely be attributed to Joe Haden.
Sound strange because you didn’t hear “Joe Haden” much early in the season? Well, that is a good thing. If you’re not convinced, consider that as soon as Haden fell injured, the Steelers starting giving up keep pass plays on a 20 minute basis.
Steelers Cornerback Depth Chart Entering the 2018 NFL Draft – the Backups
In his rookie season with Pittsburgh, Mike Hilton delivered everything to the Steelers that injuries prevented his college roommate, Senquez Golson, from delivering.
Mike Hilton made plays all over the field, whether it was breaking up passes, sacking the quarterback, tackling players behind the line of scrimmage or intercepting the ball.
After spending the first part of the season on IR, rookie Cameron Sutton got into the game against Cincinnati, and then earned his first start in the Steelers heart breaking loss to the Patriots, and has looked good in limited exposure.
Coty Sensabaugh currently holds down a roster spot. The free agent pickup started in place of Joe Haden and did OK at times, and struggled mightily at others. Behind him, the Steelers have Brian Allen. Allen is a raw prospect whom the Steelers picked in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Allen saw some limited action on special teams early in the season, and was active for the final 8 games of the season.
Steelers 2018 Cornerback Draft Needs
Since Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers have made many attempts address the cornerback position. They’ve invested premium/mid-round picks on players who ended up as busts (Curtis Brown,) another who flashed brilliance only to implode (Cortez Allen) and yet another who saw injuries end his career before it started (Senquez Golson.)
The Steelers have signed free agents who played above their contract and provided vital stability (William Gay) and others who also did better than expected by weren’t good enough to keep around (Brice McCain).
With the presence of Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Cam Sutton, Mike Hilton along with the potential offered by Brian Allen it’s tempting to say the Steelers have “addressed their need at cornerback” and can look elsewhere in this year’s draft.
That’s a temptation that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin must resist.
Certainly the Steelers have more pressing needs on defense alone than those at cornerback. But you need 3 starting-caliber cornerbacks in today’s NFL, and Cam Sutton while promising remains unproven, and Artie Burns lack of progress last year cannot be ignored. Therefore the Steelers 2018 draft need at Cornerback must be rated Moderate.
Marcus Gilbert celebrates with Mike Mitchell during the Steelers 2015 win at St. Louis. Photo Credit: Rob Cornforth, UPI
On Steel City Insider, writer Jim Wexell focused on L.J. Fort whose been cut and resigned several times and Daniel McCullers, who hasn’t been active yet. He also mentioned backup tackles Matt Feiler and Jerald Hawkins. And on his message board, most of the talk focused on the backup tackles. The fact that the Steelers added offensive tackle Jake Rogers only fueled that fire.
Yet, as the day wore on and the debate developed, Wexell cautioned:
Jim Wexell’s works on Steelers backup tackles proved to be prophetic
Now we know why.
The NFL suspended Marcus Gilbert for 4 games for use of performance enhancers, meaning the Chris Hubbard will need to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s right side in the Steelers up coming matchups with Green Bay, Cincinnati, Baltimore and yes, New England.
While Chris Hubbard already started 6 games this season, the Marcus Gilbert’s suspension deprives the Steelers of one of their best lineman during the stretch run. Gilbert will not appeal the suspension, an appeal which could have impacted his availability for the playoffs. Either way, the move will cost Gilbert:
Marcus Gilbert stands to lose a sizeable chunk of change due to his suspension. He'll forgo $941,176 in game checks for the four missed weeks, plus (I think) another $90k in signing bonus forfeiture that he'll have to repay.
Sutton spent most of 2017’s training camp out injured, but saw playing time in both the Steelers 3rd and 4th preseasons games and made the final 53 man roster, only to be put on IR. Sutton began practicing with the Steelers 3 weeks ago, and Pittsburgh must decide to activate him or leave him on IR for the rest of the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Roster is almost fully in focus as Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert made a flurry of moves to get their roster to the league mandated 53 man limit. And in doing so the Steelers dynamic-duo showed that they were once again unafraid to venture outside their comfort zone, including:
trading Sammie Coates and a 2019 7th round pick to Cleveland for a 2018 6th round pick
While trading a player in lieu of cutting them isn’t terribly unorthodox, it hasn’t been the Steelers standard operating procedure, especially when it comes on the heels of the Vance McDonald trade and the signing of Joe Haden. Beyond that the Steelers made a number of cuts which count as surprises:
A late push by McCullers saves his roster spot. On paper, this is the deepest defensive line Johnny Mitchell has ever had to work with – and he’s been coaching despite being given every chance. Assume he’ll be back on the practice squad.
Keeping 5 outside linebackers might seem like a luxury, but remember Arthur Moats has position flexibility to move inside in a pinch.
Inside Linebackers (4) Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort.
If Shazier stays healthy, this group should be OK. Still it looks a lot less athletic with Timmons in Miami.
Cornerbacks (7) Artie Burns, Joe Haden, William Gay, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Coty Sensabaugh and Brian Allen.
It almost seems like the Steelers are trying to use quantity to compensate with quality issues…
Safeties (4) Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden and Jordan Dangerfield.
To the naked eye this looks good for the Steelers. However, Mike Mitchell has been injured for most of cap, Jordan Dangerfield got injured in the final preseason game, and Robert Golden is not a long term starter.
Specialist (3) Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday.
Finally, to the surprise of no one, the Steelers cut Senquez Golson, their 2nd round draft pick from the 2015 NFL Draft whose NFL career at this point consists of a handful of training camp practices. When fans have asked Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola about whether Golson would return to the practice squad, his stock answer is that he needs to be healthy enough to practice first.
Beyond signing their practice squad, the Steelers will also likely need to make another move as Le’Veon Bell does not yet count against their 53 man roster.
There’s a good chance that the Steelers will create space for Le’Veon Bell by putting Cam Sutton on IR, but the Steelers have hardly been predictable of late.
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Senquez Golson has had a bad break or two during his first two-plus years with the team.
Unfortunately, you may have to make that three.
According to several Steelers beat writers–including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac–Golson was carted off the field with an apparent foot, ankle, or hamstring injury during the team’s first practice in pads on Sunday afternoon.
As of this writing, there is no official word on Golson’s condition. But regardless of the extent of the injury, this has to further erode the confidence of not only the player, but that of the coaches in him, coaches who once thought so highly of Golson’s skills after selecting him out of Ole Miss in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, he had the inside track on starting in the slot position in his rookie season.
But Golson’s rookie season was snuffed out before training camp even began, thanks to a shoulder injury that required surgery and placed him on the Injured Reserve list.
A year ago, during the first Monday of training camp, Golson suffered a Lisfranc injury–a mid-foot sprain–that led to a second surgery, another stint on IR and, ultimately forced him to miss all of his second campaign.
Since selecting Golson two years ago, the Steelers have drafted Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and signed veteran corner Coty Sensabaugh as a free-agent this past spring.
The odds seemed stacked against Golson as he laced up his pads and took the field at St. Vincent College Sunday
Photo credit: Steelers.com
But after suffering his third injury in the past three summers, the odds are that Senquez Golson may wind up as nothing but a foot-note in Steelers history.
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It must be a helpless feeling to be a young NFL player and have to sit out two-straight years with injuries. As former Houston Oilers head coach and Chuck Noll nemesis Jerry Glanville once argued, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.”
Senquez Golson arrived to Pittsburgh two seasons ago and, before even taking his first training camp rep, was being counted on heavily by the Steelers coaching staff to come right in and assume the role as the starting slot corner.
Fast-forward to last summer around this time; expectations were still high for Golson to boost a struggling Steelers secondary.
While the more cynical segment in Steelers Nation (OK, it was this site) wondered aloud if Senquez Golson might not end up as this generation’s Kris Farris, as head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff were clearly counting on incorporating Golson into the Steelers defensive backfield heading into 2016. But while Senquez Golson did participate in training camp last season, it amounted to the proverbial cup of coffee, as he suffered a foot injury barely a week after reporting to Latrobe, Pa.
Although the Steelers kept Golson on their 53 man roster at the start of the season with hope that he might some time in November, Pittsburgh placed Senquez Golson on Injured Reserve and missed his second straight campaign.
That’s Golson’s story.
Steelers Secondary has Moved on in Golson’s Absence
The story of the Steelers secondary while Golson has sat out two years in a row has been many more draft picks added to the mix–including cornerback Artie Burns (first round) and safety Sean Davis (second round) last year; andCameron Sutton (third round) and Brian Allen (fifth round) this past draft.
The story of the secondary has also been improvement, as Artie Burns and Sean Davis eventually assumed starting roles as the 2016 campaign rolled along and helped a passing defense improve to 16th in the NFL after finishing 30th one season earlier.
Sean Davis lays in the wood on Chris Conley during the Steelers playoff win over the Chiefs. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Regarding Cam Sutton and Brian Allen, like with most new draft picks, optimism has abounded this offseason, especially after both players made decent showings in rookie camp, minicamp and OTAs.
Yes, it must be quite disconcerting for a young player to have to sit on the sidelines, while other youngsters playing the same position are either now producing in the NFL or are drawing praise from their coaches and even the fans.
What might be even more troubling for Golson is that his bosses — especially general manager Kevin Colbert–may be ready to move on.
Not the greatest vote of confidence from a man whose opinion counts more than anyone’s except for maybe Mike Tomlin’s.
But if Senquez Golson is indeed healthy, the opportunity is certainly there for him to become a factor in the secondary.
How Senquez Golson Can Contribute in 2017
Yes, Ross Cockrell appears to have the corner spot opposite Burns locked down. Yes, William Gay is still around as the wily old veteran, while journeyman Coty Sensabaugh was added to the mix as a free agent this offseason.
However, despite starting 15 games–including many at the slot position–it was believed Gay’s play began to slip as the 2016 campaign drew to a close. As for Coty Sensabaugh, after five years in the league with three different teams, what you’ve seen from his so far is probably what you’re going to get moving forward.
In other words, those veterans don’t have upside, whereas Senquez Golson, who came to the pros after a decorated college career at Mississippi that included 10 interceptions and being voted a first-team All-American in his senior season, does.
It is true you make similar statements about both Cam Sutton and Brian Allen, but the difference with Senquez Golson is that, while he has missed his first two seasons, he has had the benefit of attending meetings and learning defensive coordinator Keith Butler‘s playbook and system.
Are mental reps in the classroom more beneficial than physical reps on the practice field?
Probably not, but having two years of knowledge should definitely put Senquez Golson on a more solid ground than the incoming class of rookies. “At this point, the only thing I’m missing is in-game experience,” Golson explained to Ed Bouchette, “I pretty much have the basics down. I don’t feel any hitch, no falloff, nothing like that.”
Senquez Golson later added: “Healthy, I’m still the same guy they drafted.”
If that is the case, it would certainly be premature and short-sighted for anyone to write Senquez Golson off as a potential contributor to the Steelers secondary in 2017.
Cam Sutton returning an interception for the Tennessee Volunteers. Photo credit: CBS Sports.
So, was the third round a little too late to take a corner, which was the case with Cam Sutton, a four-year starter who recorded seven interceptions and 30 passes defensed during his college career?
Some might say that it was, but when you consider Pittsburgh used its first two picks of the 2016 NFL Draft to take defensive backs–cornerback Artie Burns in the first round; and safety Sean Davis in the second round–it may put the draft strategy in a better context.
After all, you can’t address every single need in the first and second rounds. And since when were third round picks not expected to become starters sooner rather than later?
Now, if you want to argue that the selection of Brian Allen, a converted wide receiver who, by most accounts is a tremendous athlete but very green for his new position, could wind up on the cutting floor at training camp in August, you may be on to something.
Despite drawing some raves for his one-handed interception during Day 2 of the Steelers rookie mini-camp on Saturday, Brian Allen is most-likely a project player and may have to spend some time on the practice squad during his rookie season; or, if he’s lucky, he could make the team but be a healthy scratch each and every week, as he learns his craft under the guidance of Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake.
Like any other renovation project, there was still a great deal of dust visible in the Steelers secondary last season, this despite the defense improving from 30th against the pass in 2015 to 16th. For example, there was the entirety of the AFC Championship game, in-which several Patriots receivers–including the little-known Chris Hogan–roamed through the defensive backfield almost totally uninhibited.
Speaking of which, the mantra among the fans since the 36-17 beat-down in New England has been that the team needs to find a way to beat the Patriots.
Playing a zone against a quarterback as decorated as Tom Brady has pretty much been a recipe for disaster for the Steelers, going back to the days of Dick LeBeau and Troy Polamalu. But when you examine the resumes of Artie Burns and Cam Sutton, you’ll see that playing man coverage is something they excelled at in college.
Artie Burns following a 2016 interception. Photo Credit: CBS Sports
Maybe because the defense doesn’t want to specialize in zone coverage any longer.
It was argued that Pittsburgh couldn’t really switch to man coverage against the Patriots because it didn’t have the personnel for it. That may have been true then, but it could be a different story moving forward, if Burns continues to make progress, and a player like Sutton quickly shows that his college skill-set can translate to the pro level.
There were high hopes within the organization that Senquez Golson, a very productive player who had 10 interceptions during his senior year, could step right in and be the slot corner. Unfortunately, due to injuries, not only did Golson miss his entire rookie year, he missed all of his second season as well.
As for Doran Grant, who, if memory serves me correctly, was drawing Allen-esque raves about two years ago, he never quite caught on.
You throw Senquez Golson into the pot with Artie Burns, Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Cam Sutton, Brian Allen and, yes, Ross Cockrell, a former fourth round pick by the Bills who started all 16 games at corner last year and was often lined up against the other team’s top receiver, and you may have the makings of a pretty decent secondary sooner rather than later.
An old building isn’t renovated overnight, and neither is a struggling secondary.