This is part 11 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers. If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:
If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 5 (wide receivers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 6 (running backs), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 7 (quarterbacks), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 8 (nose tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 9 (defensive ends), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 10 (linebackers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 11 (linebackers part 2), click here.
Today we talk about a position that is one of the most dire needs for the Steelers; safeties.
Some of you are probably saying, “Safeties aren’t a need for the Steelers. We have good safeties.” And you’d be partially right, and partially wrong.
The Steelers have a pair of very good starting safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. However, age is starting to creep up on them. If we don’t want the Steelers to have the same situation at safety as they have at nose tackle, then we need to start drafting young replacements. And we need to do it now.
Lets look at the Steelers’ safeties, starting with…….
Troy is still All-Universe when it comes to NFL safeties. I don’t have to spend much time explaining to anyone how good Troy is. Moreover, Troy had a pretty good season in 2011. His interceptions were down drastically from what we’ve come to expect from Troy, but he had a very good season in just about every other statistical category.
The only problem that I see with Troy is that he’ll be 31 during the 2012 season. That’s not ancient, but Troy is getting older. And that may become a real problem based on the way Troy plays the game. We all know that Troy throws his body around like a human wrecking machine. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re in your 20′s than it is to do it in your 30′s. And Troy paid the price for his style of play even when he was in his 20′s.
2011 was only the second time that Troy has managed to stay healthy for all 16 regular season games since 2006. That’s right, Troy rarely makes it through an entire season without getting hurt. I know that fans hate hearing that, but it’s true. And we all have to start preparing for the day when Troy’s body just won’t be able to handle the physical pounding anymore. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine Troy doing what he currently does when he’s 34 or 35. Few players can play at a high level at that age, regardless of how good they were when they were younger (e.g. consider Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward, and James Farrior).
Knowing that Troy’s career is winding down, I’m concerned that his replacement isn’t currently on the roster.
2011 was probably the best statistical season of Ryan Clark’s career. He was a tackling machine out there. Moreover, the Steelers had the #1 passing defense in the NFL. So Ryan Clark’s production was undeniable.
A part of Ryan’s increase in tackles was due to the decline of the Steelers’ run defense. More guys were getting to the second level, and Ryan had to help stop them. But regardless of why his stats were up, Ryan still had a great season.
However, like Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark is getting up there in age. He’ll be 33 years old next season. That’s pretty old for an NFL player.
While his statistics say that he’s playing as well as he ever has, Ryan has nevertheless looked like he’s starting to lose a step to me.
And just like with Troy Polamalu, I don’t think that his replacement is currently on the roster.
Now are you starting to see why I think safety is a dire need for the Steelers?
Ryan Mundy has been a solid backup for the Steelers since 2009. But the key is that he’s been a backup. Ryan has made some good plays, but he’s never done anything spectacular. He’s never made me feel like he was ready to step in and be the starter.
Some might argue that he’s only been in the league for 3 years, so he’s still a young player. But that wouldn’t be true. Mundy was older than most players when he came out of college. He was 24 when he joined the team. So now he’s a 3rd year player who is already 27 years old. See the problem?
At 27 years old, Mundy should already be in the prime of his career. If he’s ever going to be a starter, he should be one now. But he’s not.
Ryan Mundy reminds me a lot of Cliff Stoudt. Some of you may be too young to remember Cliff Stoudt, but trust me on this one. Cliff Stoudt was a guy who I felt very comfortable with as a dependable backup. But I didn’t want to see him called upon to be the full-time starter. A backup simply has to be able to go in and make sure that he doesn’t screw up. But a starter has to be able to make things happen. And I’m still not convinced that Mundy can do that.
I hope that Mundy proves me wrong. But with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark both in their 30′s, and Ryan Mundy as the top backup at safety, I think Steelers fans have a legitimate cause for concern.
Will Allen is basically a career backup. He was a full-time starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 2006, but that was a long time ago. Now, he’s primarily a special teams player.
Allen will be 30 years old when the 2012 season begins. I highly doubt that he’s suddenly going to emerge as a potential starter at age 30. So let’s assume that his future contribution to the team will primarily be on special teams.
Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith was undrafted when he came out of UTEP, and he was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad as an undrafted free agent. The fact that nobody drafted him may say something about how much potential scouts felt that Cromartie-Smith showed in college.
Cromartie-Smith spent most of 2011 on the Steelers’ practice squad, but he did get to dress for 4 games, and he made a total of 3 tackles. So obviously the jury is still out on him.
So to summarize, the Steelers have two aging veterans as starters, a pair of aging backups who haven’t shown the potential to be starters, and an undrafted practice squad player. Now do you see why I think safety needs to be a position of concern in the upcoming NFL Draft?