This is Part 2 of our Steelers position review series. If you haven’t read Part 1, please click the link below.
We started with the cornerbacks. In this installment, we’re going to look at the other defensive back position; the safeties.
Safety is a unique position for the Steelers. Most fans view it as a strength. After all, Troy Polamalu plays safety. He’s the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But the reality is that safety is actually a weakness for the Steelers. And it’s a weakness that needs to be addressed.
Just think about what the team looks like when Troy is NOT in the game. Suddenly, the safeties look just as pathetic as the cornerbacks. Even Ryan Clark looks terrible when Troy’s not in the game. Troy’s presence just covers up the shortcomings of the other players. That’s why most fans (and websites) don’t list safety as a weakness for the Steelers. But it is. So let’s break it down.
Ryan Clark had a career year in 2010. He had more tackles than he’s ever had in his career. That was partially because Troy Polamalu missed games and Clark had to pick up some of the slack. But it was also because there were so many receivers running wild in the Steelers’ defensive backfield that the cornerbacks and safeties had to make a lot of tackles.
Clark will be 32 years old next season. That’s definitely not a good thing. He’s much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He probably has 1 or two years left. And those will likely be years in which he’s in decline.
Ryan Clark’s backup is Ryan Mundy. This will be Mundy’s third year with the team. During that time, he’s started a grand total of 2 games. When he has played, he’s often been more of a liability than an asset. Some of that was obviously due to inexperience, but does anyone feel comfortable with the idea of Mundy as a starter? Neither do I.
Even if Mundy did look like a potential starter, he’s a free agent this year. He’s been primarily a special teams player during his time on the team, and I don’t know if the Steelers view signing him as a priority. They can likely get someone just as good in free agency, and can probably find a better long-term solution in the draft.
So the free safety position is going to need retooling soon. And it’s better to do it while Ryan Clark is still with the team. That makes it a priority in the short-term.
The backup at strong safety is Will Allen. Like Mundy, Allen’s primary contribution has been on special teams. 2011 will be Allen’s eighth season in the NFL. All but one of those years has been as a backup. So it is highly unlikely that Allen is suddenly going to develop the skills needed to be a starter in the NFL. If he had that potential, it would have shown itself 5 years ago.
Thus, the Steelers have two backup safeties who haven’t shown the potential to be starters, and two starters who will both be 30 or older this year. Are you starting to see why I say that safety is a need position for the Steelers?
Finally, we have Troy Polamalu. As I menti0ned earlier, Polamalu is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He may be the best safety in the NFL. But Troy’s playing days will come to an end someday, and the Steelers need to prepare for that day.
Troy will be 30 years old next month. That may not sound so old, but Troy plays with reckless abandon. The way that he throws his body around must make him age in dog years.
Troy has only managed to play a complete season once in the past 5 years. He was on the field during the playoffs and Super Bowl this year, but Steelers fans know that he didn’t really play. He was too injured to make a difference. He was just out there acting as a decoy.
Will Troy be 100% healthy next year? Maybe. But we all know that the body doesn’t heal as quickly or as completely as we get older (just ask Aaron Smith). So Troy may or may not be his old self in 2011.
Here’s a radical thought that I know Steelers fans are going to hate, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. One of the things that I respect about the New England Patriots is their willingness to trade aging veterans in order to retool for the future. No team does it better than them. That’s one of the reason that they always seem to have 2-3 picks in the first round of every draft. So what would happen if the Steelers stole a page from the Patriots. Troy is coming off of an amazing season in which he was recognized as being the best defensive player in the NFL. When will his value ever be higher than it is now? So what do you think the Steelers could get back in a trade for him? Two first round picks? Perhaps a first round pick and a top-notch veteran player? If Troy were the bait, players who seemed out of reach for the Steelers (like Patrick Peterson) suddenly become a possibility. Think about it.
I know that I’m going to get hate mail for even suggesting that the Steelers trade Troy. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that nothing stirs up the ire of Steeler Nation more than saying something negative about Troy Polamalu. But I had to at least mention the idea. It’s what the Patriots would do. And I think it’s worth discussing.
So the Steelers have two aging veteran starters at safety, and two backups who are never likely to be starters in the NFL. Oh yeah, and one of those backups is a free agent. Now do you see why I say that safety is a position of need for the Steelers?
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