Maybe the one position on the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team that has the most question marks going into the season is the cornerback spot.
Between players under-achieving and the lack of proven talent at the end of the roster, the cornerback position remains one of the most intriguing positions to watch during training camp and preseason for a variety of reasons.
The Steelers were the ninth best pass defense in the league in terms of yardage in 2013, but with their secondary becoming older and having to face the likes of A.J. Green and Torrey Smith in the division each year, this is a unit that must become better for the team to get back to being an elite defense.
For a decade, Ike Taylor has been an underrated stalwart of the Steelers defense.
Taylor has never made the Pro-Bowl in his NFL career, but he’s always been the keystone that’s held the defensive backs together.
But Ike Taylor is now 34 and coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ike Taylor ranked as the 98th best cornerback in the league, surrounding 1,043 yards in coverage and six touchdowns.
To make matters worse, quarterbacks had a passer rating of 110.6 when throwing at Taylor. It was an awful year for the 6’1 corner out of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Taylor was also asked to take a $4.25 million dollar pay-cut to stay on the roster.
Taylor will be assigned the task each week to matchup with the opponents best receiver.
Last year, the results were mixed when he had to do so.
Taylor did a good job on the likes of A.J Green and Brandon Marshall. But he gave up 6 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns to Calvin Johnson and 14 catches for 237 yards and 1 touchdown against Josh Gordon.
Taylor is still one of the league’s best corners in run defense, with 71 total tackles in 2013. If Taylor doesn’t bounce back in 2014, the entire defense will struggle. They need him to rebound quickly.
Starting opposite of Taylor, is Cortez Allen who is going into his fourth season as a pro.
Allen finished much higher according to Pro Football Focus, coming in as the 36th best corner in the league.
Allen finished 2013 with two interceptions, but more importantly, he filled in for Keenan Lewis quite admirably when Lewis was lost to free agency after the 2012 season.
Allen will be competing with Taylor for the rights to take on the best wide receivers every week in Pittsburgh.
A player who I thought had an under-rated campaign in 2013 was old reliable William Gay.
Gay is a slot corner who thrives in the run game.
In week 10 against Buffalo, Gay had 6 tackles that came on or behind the line of scrimmage, an incredible stat for a cornerback.
Pro Football Focus also agrees that Gay flew under the radar in 2013. Gay finished as the 9th best cornerback in the league (Reminder: PFF does not consider who each corner is facing, just their production on each play) and the 4th best corner in run defense. Gay should be considered a lock for the nickel job in 2013.
Behind those three, it gets ugly pretty fast.
The Steelers drafted Shaquille Richardson out of Arizona in the fifth round and he probably has the inside track at the fourth cornerback job due to the cost to acquire him.
The others competing with him are Robert Golden who played 51 defensive snaps in 2013, Antwon Blake who played 5, and Ross Ventrone who is a converted safety whose real value comes on special teams.
It’s also worth noting that the Steelers are very high on third round pick in 2013 Shamarko Thomas who was drafted as a safety who they feel like can play nickel cornerback in a pinch.
It will be fun to watch and see if any of these players can stand out during camp and the preseason and win the job outright.