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hawaiiansteel
03-04-2010, 09:18 PM
Position Review: Defensive Backs
Written by Blitzburgh Brian
Thursday, 25 February 2010


2009 was definitely a down year for the Steelers defensive backfield. Giving up 4th-quarter comebacks to opponents' hurry-up passing games, missing tackles like nobody's business, and certainly not intercepting passes. A lot of blame falls on the DBs for last season, but pessimism isn't the answer, so we'll highlight some of the bright spots too.

Ike Taylor
Ike Taylor had a pretty average year. Dropped about a million interceptions, got beaten for a few games, and other than that, did his job as a cover corner more often than not. Old Stone Hands has to learn how to catch if he really wants to be a difference maker. He can keep up with top receivers and he can jump for passes, but if only he could actually hang on to half of the ones he touches, the Steelers would win about 3 more games per year.

His age isn't an issue yet, which is a good thing, but I think everyone would love it if this offseason he went out and caught some balls from somebody. That's really the only part of his game that is absolutely lacking and it's the only thing keeping him from being considered a top-flight CB.

William Gay
Oh, Willie Gay. Here's a problem area. What can you say about the guy? He's sloppy in coverage, isn't much of a tackling machine, and whenever he does make a tackle, he gets up and does a dance like he just did something impressive, not something he is contractually obligated to do.

I know he's young and he's still learning the nuances of the game but... well, I'll never be mistaken for a William Gay fan. The Steelers gambled on Gay by letting Bryant McFadden go in free agency last year, and it looks like they lost so far. He has this offseason to work on his game, and he'll be on the hot seat in training camp.

Troy Polamalu
The shining beacon among the Steelers' secondary. His injury (Thanks, Madden Curse) is largely to blame for the Steelers' weaknesses in the back end in 2009.

There's nothing else to say about Troy. He's the best athlete the Steelers have. He almost never makes mistakes. All he does is take skill players out of opposing offenses and let the defense run. The interceptions are pretty nice, too. 2010 will be a better year with Polamalu on the field.

Ryan Clark
This hard-hitting safety endeared himself to me over the past few seasons with his brutal tackling style. Unfortunately, that sometimes comes at the expense of his coverage. Clark had a down year with the rest of the defense, so some of his mistakes this season are forgiveable. The guy usually hauls in a pick or two on the season, and that's never something to hold against someone.

Unfortunately, his play in a contract year probably didn't do much to convince the organization to re-sign him. I'd like to see Clark get another run with the black and gold next season, when he can play with Polamalu taking care of business. His absence hurt Clark more than anyone last season.

Tyrone Carter
I am not a Carter fan and haven't been for some time. He's an aging backup safety who couldn't cover or tackle well enough for the defense to hold up without Polamalu. Expect the team to target a safety early in the draft to replace Carter as the backup safety (or starter, if Clark is indeed on his way out). Carter is more a liability than anything at this stage, and anything more than a spot duty a few plays per game is too much of a workload for him.

Deshea Townsend
Contrary to Tyrone Carter, Townsend is an aging DB I still like. He played well enough to survive at the nickel back position, and while he isn't getting any younger, he still makes very small contributions when he is asked. My opinion of him is probably swayed by the fact that he wasn't asked to overperform his abilities like Carter was.

While I don't see Townsend as a liability, he also doesn't have a lot to offer to the team anymore. Let's face it, the Steelers just drafted two cornerbacks because they wanted to get younger at the position, and Townsend is pretty much the opposite of where they want to go.

Joe Burnett/Keenan Lewis
Two rookie CBs that didn't get much playing time in their first season, which is to be expected. Joe Burnett's 2009 season will best be remembered for dropping an easy interception that could have won the game vs the Raiders. (Hint: Don't take interception tips from Ike Taylor) That's easy to chalk up to a rookie mistake, and both of these guys have a ton of potential to get better. After all, they were drafted as replacements for Taylor and Townsend at best, special teamers at worst. They'll both get their chances to contribute.

Ryan Mundy
Mundy is already in place as the next backup safety, but Clark's contract situation may force him into duty in 2010. Still haven't seen enough of him beyond a few rookie mistakes here and there to assess how well he can play, but we have the 2010 training camp to watch him battle for a spot on the field (again, depending on Ryan Clark).

Anthony Madison
Saved the Steelers' season on special teams. I have no idea why he gets cut every year; all they do is re-sign him and he comes in with 40 special teams tackles per game or something. The tackling on special teams before and after his return to the Steelers has to convince you that he's worth a roster spot.

Those are the defensive backs that took the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009. Probably the weakest position on the team (sans Polamalu, of course) but while the defensive line suffered from aging without necessarily dropping in performance, the defensive backfield suffered a poor performance but with young guys on the depth chart preparing to take over. The DBs are better poised to bounce back next season and beyond, and we should expect them to tighten up next season.

Especially with Polamalu back.