Steelers Eagles Preseason Game Ends in 17-0 Loss as Landry Jones Throws 4 Interceptions

It’s a good thing the Pittsburgh Steelers highly-touted offense has been missing several key members so far in the preseason, otherwise there might be cause for concern.

For the second week in a row, the Steelers, sans Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, failed to produce much on offense, as Pittsburgh fell to the Eagles, 17-0, in the second preseason game Thursday night at Heinz Field.

Backup quarterback Landry Jones threw four first half interceptions, and Philadelphia capitalized with 10 points–including a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Nolan Carroll II–to take a 10-0 lead into halftime.

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Landry Jones gets KOed before throwing his 4th interception in Steelers preseason loss to Eagles. Photo credit: Philip G. Pavely, Tribune-Review

For the night, Jones completed 12 of 20 passes for 111 yards and those four interceptions and did little to instill confidence in his coaches, teammates and the fans that he really is the answer at backup quarterback for the Steelers.

The Eagles took the second half kickoff and marched 87 yards on fifteen plays and capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown run by running back Kenjon Barner to make it 17-0.

There weren’t many positives from there, as it was just another ugly preseason performance by the Steelers, which, for better or for worse, has become standard for the Steelers since 2013.

Positives to Come Out of the Philadelphia Preseason Loss?

If there was perhaps one positive to take from Thursday’s performance it was the first-team defense only allowing 10 points (three if you don’t count the pick-six) despite being handicapped with those four interceptions by Jones.

As far as individual performances are concerned, nothing much stood out on either side of the ball, but second-year receiver Eli Rogers took another step or two in cementing his spot on the roster as the team’s fifth receiver by catching four passes for 39 yards.

Dustin Vaughan, who played the entire second half at quarterback, was once again under siege, as he completed seven of 13 passes for just 67 yards and was sacked four times.

Reserve running back Daryl Richardson, who impressed a week ago by rushing for 44 yards on 11 carries against the Lions, totaled just 15 yards on 10 carries, while Fitzgerald Toussaint carried the ball eight times for 26 yards.

Next up for the Steelers is an 8 p.m. kickoff in New Orleans next Friday night, as they battle the Saints in the third preseason game.

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Should Ben Roethlisberger Sit Out Preseason, All of Preseason?

It’s certainly a new era in the NFL.

For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers just ended their training camp at St. Vincents in Latrobe, Pennsylvania less than three weeks after the players reported on July 28. That’s a far cry from the yesteryear of Camp Noll, which included six weeks of two-day (and remember, Chuck Noll believed in full contact practices.)  Also, it’s now generally understood that, not only will players of a certain stature (valuable superstars) not play very much in the preseason, in some cases, they’ll sit out entire games.

  • Such was the case last year, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed the first and last preseason games, while Landry Jones started in his place.
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Ben Roethlisberger sits as Mike Tomlin stands @ Latrobe 2016; Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Fast-forward to the 2016 preseason. Not only did Roethlisberger skip Pittsburgh’s first game against the Lions last Friday night at Heinz Field, he was joined on the sidelines by Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Maurkice Pouncey.

  • If you thought things would be much different for the Steelers second preseason game, Thursday night at Heinz Field, you’re wrong.

While Pouncey, who missed the entire 2015 regular season after suffering a leg injury in the third exhibition game, may see some preseason action against Philadelphia Eagles, the rest of the aforementioned valuable superstars will get a second week to observe and relax.

“I know what Ben is capable of, I’ve worked with him for a decade now,” explained head coach Mike Tomlin, in his usual pragmatic way as he addressed the media on Tuesday at his weekly press conference:

He showed up in tremendous condition. He’s performed well. He’s obviously a veteran. What’s required for him to be ready to play might be different than others. My job is to give everybody what it is they need to be ready to go. I just believe that the reps are better served to be given to guys like Landry [Jones] and Dustin [Vaughan].

It is true that Mike Tomlin already knows what his star quarterback is capable of, but let’s not kid ourselves. He also knows what his offense isn’t capable of when Ben Roethlisberger is out of the lineup, as evidenced by the struggles the unit endured–specifically the passing game–when he missed four games in  2015 with a sprained MCL.

  • As for the rest of the players on the list, of course everyone knows what Brown, Bell and Williams are capable of and, more importantly, how vital their health is to the success of the offense.

I’m of the opinion that players like Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown would be best-served to sit out the entire preseason. If we’re to assume one of the reasons Tomlin has rested his offensive stars thus far is to avoid a serious injury, well, those can happen at any time in these games that don’t count.

  • Do you honestly think it will affect Roethlisberger’s or Brown’s regular season sharpness one bit by not taking reps in the preseason?

Minnestoa Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson has famously not had a carry in the preseason since 2011, yet he’s remained at the top of his profession year-in and year-out.

Does the absence of so many superstars make preseason games a little tougher to sit through? Yes, but the absence of even one or two vital players–particularly a franchise quarterback–often makes regular season games that much tougher to win.

 

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Landry Jones Evolution as a Steelers Quarterback

When discussing the performances of certain individuals in the Steelers 30-17 loss to the Lions at Heinz Field Friday night, Landry Jones, the backup quarterback who started in place of Ben Roethlisberger and played the entire first half, has been placed in the “losers” category by more than one expert and fan.

  • That type of criticism is understandable, I suppose.

When a player completes just six of 12 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown, he’s certainly going to open himself up to slings and arrows–even in the aftermath of the very first preseason game.

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Landry Jones reads the Detroit defense as David DeCastro blocks in Steelers preseason loss to Lions. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

However, given that it was a preseason game–the very first preseason game–head coach Mike Tomlin really didn’t do Jones any favors by deactivating Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Maurkice Pouncey and a few other key components for the evening.

Not that Tomlin had to hand Landry Jones the keys to a Porsche with a full tank of gas (it almost seems insane to play your superstars in exhibitions games in 2016), but you might think such obstacles would give the fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft a little leeway with regards to criticism.

But it didn’t.

On the surface, aside from a very pretty 29-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey late in the second quarter that couldn’t have looked better if Roethlisberger had connected with Brown on the play, Jones turned in a lackluster performance Friday night.

But preseason football isn’t about judging performances at face-value. Sometimes it’s about looking at the intangibles. For instance, even though Heyward-Bey made an absolute gem of a catch when he pulled in that touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, you can’t forget that he also dropped a pass over the middle in the first quarter that Jones placed in-between several Lions’ defenders.

Maybe that’s why, on the heels of a bobbled bubble screen and a fumble by the second-year receiver, Jones appeared to give Sammie Coates the what for as he ran back to the huddle late in the second quarter after failing to come up with a sliding catch over the middle.

  • That also could be why Jones looked a little annoyed and irritated as he stood on the sidelines in the second half, while Bruce Gradkowski and then Dustin Vaughan took over quarterback duties.

Perhaps Jones wasn’t annoyed or irritated. It could be that he’s matured into a poised leader. But even if he was a little upset about the performances of his teammates, that’s a good thing. After all, regardless of how big of a superstar Antonio Brown is or how great of a leader Maurkice Pouncey has always been, the leader of the offense should always be the quarterback.

Remember when Alan Faneca gave his sarcastic response to the media when he learned that the then rookie Roethlisberger would be starting his first game against the Dolphins in Week 3 of the 2004 season? Faneca seemed annoyed, because, at that point, he probably envisioned having to babysit a wide-eyed rookie quarterback. Even though Faneca was in his seventh season and had long-since established himself as one of the best guards in the NFL, he probably didn’t want the added responsibility of directing traffic and being vocal in the huddle.

Jones made his NFL debut in a game against the Cardinals in Week 6 of last season, when he came on in the third quarter in place of an injured Mike Vick. Even though Jones passed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, as he led the Steelers to a 25-13 victory, his appearance wasn’t without controversy, when Brown became visibly upset after a play in-which he and the young quarterback didn’t appear to be on the same page.

  • While it’s never ideal to have those kinds of blow-ups, the natural order of things is for the quarterback to be chewing out his receiver.

If you’ve ever watched NFL Films highlights of the Steelers 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, you may have seen veteran receiver Hines Ward sitting on the sidelines next to Roethlisberger (playing in just his second season) and urging him to “Take control of that huddle.”

Regardless of an offensive player’s stature (Ward was a decorated receiver at that point of his career and moments away from being named Super Bowl MVP), he wants his quarterback to know the plays, direct traffic and demand accountability.

  • Judging by his demeanor on Friday and the way he directed the likes of Jesse James and Coates to the correct spots right before the snap, Jones confidence in himself appears to have grown.

If that’s the case, its a far-cry from what his state-of-mind must have been last fall following his heroics against Arizona, when he told the assembled media, “I still can’t believe I got in the game and to play. I’m still kind of reeling from it.”

Jones got a ton of practice last preseason, which prepared him for the spotlight. In addition to his relief appearance against the Cardinals, Jones started his first two regular season games and had to come on in another substitute role in the fourth quarter of the wild card game against the Bengals after Roethlisberger left with a shoulder injury.

Landry Jones may never duplicate what Roethlisberger has done throughout his career (there are only about three dozen passers in the history of the league who have similar resumes), but Landry Jones evolution as a Steelers quarterback may have reached the point where his coaches and teammates believe in him.

Sometimes, such belief is all a backup quarterback needs when called upon to win an important game.

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5 Times When Steelers Preseason Troubles Signaled Regular Season Stumbles

The lackluster loss to the Lions started the Steelers 2016 preseason campaign. Steelers Nation is already weighing poor performances from the likes of Alejandro Villanueva and Sammie Coates along with the poor tackling against solid play by the likes of Daryl Richardson, Landry Jones and Doran Grant.

  • Both sides of the discussion will punctuate their arguments with “Its only preseason.”

And rightly so. Steelers preseason results seldom indicate much about the coming regular season, and that’s even when stars like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are in the game.

But Steelers history also shows us that exceptions do exist. Click below for 5 times when preseason troubles signaled regular season Steelers stumbles.

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Shamarko Thomas drops a should be interception in Steelers preseason loss to Lions; Photo Credit: Steelers.com

1. 1990 – Steelers Tread Treacherous Terrain of Walton’s Mountain

One surprise following the 1989 Steelers story book season was Chuck Noll’s decision, under pressure from the front office, to dismiss Tom Moore and hire Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator. On paper, the move looked smart. Walton’s offensive mind was well-regarded throughout the league.

  • The reality was something different.

In an August preseason game vs. the Washington Redskins, (yours truly’s first pro football game) the Steelers offense played dazed and confused, as Bubby Brister, Rick Strom and Randy Wright combined for 148 yards, most of which was gained during the game’s final two minutes. Afterwards, Chuck Noll opined that the only place the Steelers offense had to was up….

The 1990 Steelers opened the season without scoring an offensive touchdown during September.
Although the offense did find some rhythm in the middle of 1990, missed opportunities, misused personnel and miscommunication ultimately characterized Joe Walton’s tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator.

2. 1995 Bam is No Barry

Injuries, attitude and declining production prompted Pittsburgh to part ways with one-time franchise running back Barry Foster in the 1995 off season. The emergence of Bam Morris in 1994 made the Steelers decision much easier.

  • Steelers running back’s coach Dick Hoak raved about Morris during training camp.

But the truth is, Bam Morris’ preseason performances were forgettable.

Statistics are not easily available from those preseason contests. The record shows that Bam Morris did run well vs. the Bills in the Steelers first outing, going 4 for 24, but he went 7 of 16 in the next.

The latter performance telegraphed Bam Morris’ lack luster start to the 1995 season, where he just barely averaged over 3 yards a carry during the seasons first seven games, before Bill Cowher benched him in favor of Erric Pegram, who was an unsung hero of the 1995 AFC Championship season.

3. 1996 3 Headed Quarterback Derby Spins Its Wheels

When Neil O’Donnell departed after Super Bowl XXX the Steelers opted to promote from within as Bill Cowher held a three way quarterback competition in training camp between Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart.

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Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart quarterbacked the Steelers in the mid-late 1990’s. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

  • The Steelers meticulously split time between the three quarterbacks, down to ensure equal practice snaps.

Bill Cowher hopped that one man would establish himself.

Unfortunately none did. Bill Cowher declared Jim Miller the starter just before the regular season, but clarified he was making a gut decision. Cowher didn’t trust his gut that much, as Jim Miller’s time as the Steelers starting quarterback lasted all of one half, as Cowher benched him in favor of Mike Tomczak.

While Tomczak led the 1996 Steelers to a 10-6 record and an AFC Central Championship, by the time December arrived it was clear that Tomczak wasn’t going to take the Steelers on a deep playoff run as Bill Cowher began to give Kordell Stewart time, who also wasn’t ready to be a signal caller.

4. 1998 Steelers Lost without John Jackson

John Jackson got blown away in the final preseason game of the 1988 season, infuriating Chuck Noll so much that the Emperor had to be talked out of cutting him. Fortunately Noll listened to his assistants, as John Jackson would be a mainstay at left tackle for the Steelers for the next decade.

But when John Jackson reached free agency at age 32 in 1997 and the San Diego Chargers offered to make Jackson the highest paid offensive lineman in the league, the Steelers said so long.

  • It was a wise move, and the Steelers had invested heavily in drafting offensive lineman to replace him.

Unfortunately, none of them were up to the task. Bill Cowher tried various combinations at both tackle positions throughout the preseason as Jerome Bettis struggled to finding holes. Finally, Cowher moved Will Wolford to left tackle, slide Justin Strzelczyk to right tackle, and the offensive line was OK, until Strzelczyk got injured in a Monday night contest vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jamain Stephens, 1996’s first round draft pick, finally got his chance to start, but the image of Bettis lighting into Stephens for not blocking well enough is the enduring memory of his tenure at right tackle.

It wouldn’t be until 2000 that the Steelers restored stability to left tackle, and their entire offensive line, but the troubles the Steelers experienced during their 1998 preseason campaign foreshadowed it all.

5. 2013 0-4 Preseason Foreshadows 0-4 Steelers Start

Look at the Steelers preseason results from 2007 to 2012 and there’s one constant X-1. The Steelers never lost more than a single game in preseason, irrespective if they finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs or playing in the Super Bowl.

  • Then came the Steelers 2013 preseason campaign.

For the first time in the Mike Tomlin era and the first time since Bill Cowher’s final season, the Steelers laid a goose egg in preseason. Commentator’s cautioned “Its only preseason” and Mike Tomlin explained the losses away, indicating that the men largely responsible for those losing efforts would find themselves on the waiver wire.

  • And they did. But those preseason losses also revealed the limits of the Steelers depth.

Depth that injuries to the starting running back, the two chief backup running backs, two starting tight ends, starting center, starting cornerback, and starting inside linebacker would test to the limit. The end result was the Steelers 0-4 start after an embarrassing loss in London to the Vikings.

In 2014 and 2015 the Steelers went 1-3 and 1-4 in the preseason, yet finished in the playoffs both times, so the “its only preseason” credo held true then. But 2013 was one year when piss-poor preseason performance signaled real trouble, at least at the start of the season.

 

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Lack Luster Steelers Drop Preseason Game to Lions, 30-17

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 2016 preseason schedule with a 30-17 pasting at the hands of the Detroit Lions Friday night at Heinz Field, as several key members on the offensive side of the ball were given the night off.

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Sammie Coates can’t hold on as Steelers Lose to Lions 30-17 in 2016’s first preseason outing; Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, AP via ESPN.com

Pittsburgh jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, after cornerback Doran Grant intercepted a pass from Detroit backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky and raced 39-yards down the near sideline and into the end zone.

Later in the second quarter, with the Steelers leading, 7-3, backup quarterback Landry Jones, starting in-place of Ben Roethlisberger, hooked up with Darrius Heyward-Bey to increase the advantage to 14-3.

  • From there, it was all Detroit, as the Lions scored 27 of the next 30 points.

Detroit dominated in every facet of the game–including total yards (379-187), time of possession (34:02-25:58) and first downs (20-10).

Preseason or not, first game or not, the overall performance of his team couldn’t have been pleasing to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who didn’t appear to be very happy on the sideline, even as his team nursed a 14-13 lead in the first half.

The Steelers second string defense and special teams missed countless tackles in the second half, namely during the 96-yard kickoff return by Dwayne Washington and on the 27-yard touchdown catch and run by Jace Billingsley.

Some Steelers Shine, Despite Lackluster Performance

Despite the Steelers lackluster performance, Pittsburgh does take some positives away from the game.  For starters, Landry Jones looks like he has solidified his position as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger. Despite completing just six of 12 passes for 55 yards and a score, Jones looked to be in command of the offense and probably deserved a better fate, as his receivers appeared to drop several catchable passes.

  • Second round pick Sean Davis saw extensive action in the secondary, and while he didn’t dazzle, the stage didn’t appear to be too big for him, as Mike Tomlin might say.
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James Harrison closes in in Matthew Stanford in Steelers preseason loss to Lions; Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Daryl Richardson, a virtual unknown at running back, may have put himself firmly on the radar of his coaches and the fans, after rushing for 45 yards on 12 carries. With Le’Veon Bell‘s suspension looming and DeAngelo Williams pushing 33, the Steelers need a solid number 3 running back.

Ricardo Mathews, the reserve defensive end Pittsburgh signed in March, had a big night pressuring the quarterback, and his near-sack of Orlovsky in the second quarter led to a horrible decision that landed in the waiting arms of Grant, who scored the night’s first touchdown.

And, finally, James Harrison, the 38-year old wonder of a linebacker, beat left tackle Taylor Decker, the Lions’ first round pick, on a play in the first quarter and stripped Matthew Stafford of the football (the first of two takeaways for the defense).

As for negatives. Aside from the lopsided box score, Sammie Coates, a receiver being counted on heavily  this year to replace the suspended Martavis Bryant, had a night he’d like to forget; not only did Coates catch just three passes for 18 yards, he dropped another pass and fumbled twice.

On the injury front, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who missed all of last season, left the game in the second half with what was reported as a hamstring injury and never returned.

Next up on the preseason schedule is a date with the Eagles next Thursday night at Heinz Field.

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Steelers Concern for Ladarius Green’s Headaches Reveals NFL’s Changing Concussion Culture

Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com, the same Aditi Kinkhabwala who tried to claim she’d predicted the Steelers dismissal of Jack Bicknell and then stone walled when Dejan Kovacevic challenged her on it, dropped another bombshell:

When Heath Miller suddenly retired following the 2015 season, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin didn’t blink an eye and immediately went out and signed Ladarius Green from the San Diego Chargers. The decision to sign Green was uncharacteristic for the franchise, but the move immediately bolstered a weak spot on the depth chart, and freed to Steelers to focus on defense in the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • Since then Ladarius Green has done little except jog during spring practices and at St. Vincents.
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Ladarius Green’s headaches have kept him from practicing, per an NFL.com report. Photo Credit: Associated Press, used on Yahoo! Sports

Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell has been on top of the story, asking early in training camp if the Steelers were facing “Chaos at Tight End” and then upping the ante two weeks into camp by describing the Steelers “Looming Crisis” at tight end. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette followed with a similar story shortly after Wexell published his.

  • The Steelers have claimed on the record that they knew of Green’s ankle injury and even realized that he could possibly begin the season on the PUP.

However, Kinkhabwala’s story, if confirmed, drastically alters the situation with Green.

Aditi Kinkhabwala quotes Green’s agent, Adisa Bakari as saying that Green’s ankle is fine, and reminds readers that Green has been seen sprinting on open fields at St. Vincents.

Impact of NFL’s New Concussion Consciousness

If Kinkhabwala’s report is correct, it carries serious consequences for the Steelers. Matt Spaeth failed a physical and is out of football, leaving Jesse James, David Johnson and Xavier Grimble as the Steelers top three tight ends.

Jesse James looked good as a rookie last year, but he only caught 8 passes, one more than David Paulson, a rookie who “looked good” in 2012 and then flamed out into nothing.

While one might be tempted to gloss over the importance of tight end, the Steelers opened 2013 by starting their number 3 tight end (David Johnson) and went 0-4. Yes, tight end play was only a small part of the 0-4 start, but the Steelers offense didn’t really get humming until Matt Spaeth returned in December.

  • But what’s bad for the Steelers offense, ultimately might confirm that the NFL has turned a corner on concussions.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion during the January 1st 2011 NHL Winter Classic and saw his symptoms linger for more a year beyond the initial event and was characterized several false starts an set backs.

At the time, someone, whose name now escapes memory, reminded everyone that this is not abnormal for people who’ve suffered concussions and questioned why NFL players never missed more than a few weeks with a concussion.

  • According to Eric.O’Connell of Behind the Steel Curtain, Ladarius Green suffered two concussions in 2015 as well as another in 2014.

In the not too distant past, Ladarius Green’s headaches very well would have been met with either an implicit or even explicit pressure to “Tough it out” assuming Green mentioned his headaches to coaches in lieu of keeping them to himself, as Hines Ward suggested Ben Roethlisberger should have done back in 2009.

Neither the Green or the Steelers are going that route, and that is a positive sign of how the NFL’s culture on concussions is changing.

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2 Reasons to Get Excited about Steelers Preseason: Artie Burns and Sean Davis

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 preseason schedule starts  Friday night with a game against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field.

  • “What to watch for in the game” will be a headline in many newspapers and online publications.

But you know how a Steelers preseason game usually unfolds; stars like Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will quickly get their work in and will be on the sidelines with towels around their necks long before most of the fans have gotten comfortable in their yellow seats. (Roethlisberger and Brown could probably take the entire month of August off and still be effective in Week 1).

What I’m anticipating perhaps more than I have since No. 7’s first season, is the debut of two Steelers rookies, namely first round pick Artie Burns and second round pick Sean Davis.

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Steelers 2016 1st and 2nd round picks Artie Burns and Sean Davis; Photo credit: Keith Srakocic, associated press

Let’s face it, no matter how you may have sliced it leading up to  2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers needed to address their secondary. The fact that they did so in the first two rounds lends more credence  to that sentiment.

Adding two young defensive backs to a secondary that was supposed to include another one in 2015 second round pick Senquez Golson was downright exciting as training camp approached. Sadly, Golson, a corner out of Ole Miss, suffered a Lisfranc sprain during a practice at Steelers training camp on August 1. A week later, it was reported that Golson had surgery on that injury and is expected to miss up to four months of action.

  • For a second-year player who missed his entire rookie season after undergoing shoulder surgery, that’s rather discouraging news.

But as Meatloaf once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Steelers will still unveil two shiny new toys this Friday night.

Word has that the first-rounder Artie Burns, a corner out of Miami, has struggled a bit so far at training camp while attempting to cover the likes of Antonio Brown. Meanwhile, Davis, who was slated to play safety at the pro-level after playing both safety and corner at Maryland, is said to be having a very good camp.

  • Senquez Golson was being counted on to play the slot this year, and with him out of action, Davis has benefited with a ton of reps at the position.

No matter how you evaluate each player’s performance in camp, there’s no question both are vital to the future success of the Steelers secondary.

The defense finished 27th and then 30th against the pass over the past two seasons, and an infusion of young talent on the back-end of the defense was clearly a priority.

Will Steelers Offseason Efforts to Beef Up the Secondary Work…?

Going back in time, the 49ers finished 27th against the pass in 1980 after finishing 24th the year before that. How did Bill Walsh, the team’s innovative head coach, respond to this clear problem?

By using four of his first five picks to select defensive backs in the 1981 NFL Draft. In doing so, the 49ers struck gold with two gems in cornerback Eric Wright and safety Carlton Williamson in rounds three and four, respectively. In Round 1, Walsh unearthed a future Hall of Famer when he had the good sense to select safety Ronnie Lott.

Lott, Williamson and Wright immediately became starters and combined for nine interceptions, as San Francisco improved to third against the pass in ’81. Furthermore, the 49ers, who finished 6-10 the season before, won 13 regular season games on the way to capturing Super Bowl XVI.

The good news for the 2016 Steelers is, unlike that San Francisco team from 35 years ago, they’re already considered Super Bowl contenders, and wouldn’t shock the world by capturing a seventh Lombardi next February.

  • So what am I trying to prove by citing a Ronald Reagan era 49ers team in this piece?

Only that, if you have a problem area on your football team, it’s perfecting fine to aggressively address it in the draft.

Were Lott, Wright and Williamson considered “great draft value” based on where the 49ers picked them? Who knows, but the team addressed a major area of need, and, perhaps more importantly, three young players were thrown into the mix right away and excelled.

This isn’t to say Artie Burns and Sean Davis should step in right away and start from Day 1–although, if that were the case, that might not be the worst thing in the world.

Personally, I don’t care if Pittsburgh loses 30-0 this Friday. If Burns and Davis stand out in some way, it could be a very important first step for the Steelers’ much-maligned secondary.

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