Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


The Steelers’ challenges (part 1)

March 05, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

Well, the NFL Combine has started, and free agency officially began at midnight on Thursday.  So draft season has officially begun.  It’s time to take a look at exactly what the Steelers need, and who is out there to help them meet those needs.

We are going to start out with the Steelers’ defensive backs, and work our way through all of the positions on the team.

First up, the safeties.

This past season was one that the Steelers would like to forget.  And the defensive backs would probably like to forget it more than any other group of players.  Oh wait, I forgot about the special teams guys.  Scratch that last comment.

Okay, so BESIDES the special teams players, the defensive backs probably want to forget this past season more than any other group.  I’ll talk about the cornerbacks in the next installment in this series, but today, I want to focus on the Safeties.

I hear many fans saying that without Troy Polamalu, the rest of the Steelers defensive backs got exposed as the sub-par players that they really are.  I don’t agree with that assessment.

More than any other unit except perhaps the offensive line, the defensive backs live and die as a unit.  When one part is out of whack, the rest of the unit suffers.  This is what happened when Troy Polamalu went down with his injury.

Troy is one of the best safeties in the NFL.  Losing him is not easy to recover from.  Tyrone Carter tries his best, and he is a competent backup, but he is not Troy Polamalu.

All indications are that Troy is recovering nicely from his injury, and will be ready to go next season.  I hope that’s true, but the reality is that Troy has missed 30% of the Steelers’ games over the past 4 seasons.  2008 was the only season out of the past 4 that Troy was able to play all 16 regular season games.

So while many fans are saying that the Steelers need to draft a safety to replace Ryan Clark, who may leave in free agency, I think they need to draft a safety to backup (and potentially replace) Troy Polamalu.

Don’t get me wrong.  If Troy is healthy, then I definitely want him in the Steelers lineup.  But I’m just not sure that it’s a safe bet to assume that he will be healthy.  Recent history shows that he won’t be healthy 30% of the time.  In 2009 he was unhealthy 70% of the time.

I’ve had numerous conversations this past year with Steelers fans who disagree with me.  They think that Ryan Clark played terribly this past season, and that the Steelers need to let him walk in free agency.  What they don’t understand is that they are wrong.  The Steelers need to be concerned about every safety on their roster EXCEPT for Ryan Clark.

Ryan Clark quietly had the best season of his career in 2009.  He had career highs in tackles and passes defensed.  He also tied his career high in interceptions (but had his highest total as a Steeler).  He was tied for the team lead in interceptions, and was second on the team in total tackles.

So why do so many Steelers fans think that Clark had a terrible season?  Moreover, why are they anxious to see him leave?

Meanwhile, Tyrone Carter will be 34 years old next season.  Carter has been a capable backup, but surely the team could find a younger player to fill the same role.

Ryan Mundy is a young safety, but he has never started a game.  In his two years with the Steelers, he has accumulated 25 tackles and 1 pass defensed.  That’s not enough to make me feel confident that he is the safety of the future.

So the only Steelers safety that I feel completely confident in is the one who may be leaving in free agency.

Looking at the available free agents, Ryan Clark is the 2nd best safety available.  Only Darren Sharper is more talented than Clark.  So Clark very likely will receive offers from other teams.

What should the Steelers do?

The Steelers have too much uncertainty at the safety position.  They need to do everything in their power to sign Ryan Clark.  In fact, they should have done so before the free agency period began.

The Steelers never participate in the initial free agency period.  Moreover, they never sign high profile free agents.  So there is little chance that they will pursue Darren Sharper or Antrelle Rolle.  They are the only two free agent safeties who are in Clark’s class.  Any other free agent safety will be a step down.

So if the Steelers lose Ryan Clark, they will be left with Troy Polamalu and little else at safety.

This year’s draft has quite a few talented safeties that the Steelers could be interested in.

Eric Berry is the best safety in this year’s draft.  But he will be gone long before the Steelers’ selection comes around.  So there is no need discuss him.

Earl Thomas out of Texas is a very real possibility for the Steelers.  He is a natural free safety, and he has the versatility to play some  cornerback in a pinch.  Thomas would look great in black and gold, and he should be available  at the 18th pick.

Taylor Mays is another name that is often mentioned by Steelers fans as someone that they’d like to see the Steelers select.  I don’t agree with that opinion.  Taylor Mays is a freakish athlete.  But he’s not a very good safety.  He reminds me a bit of the late Sean Taylor.  Like Sean Taylor, Mays is huge for a safety, and looks more like a small linebacker.  But also like Sean Taylor, Taylor Mays is lacking in his coverage skills.  Moreover, Taylor Mays is a natural strong safety.  That’s Troy Polamalu’s position.  The Steelers greatest need is for a free safety to fill the void that may be left by Ryan Clark.

In Taylor Mays, the Steelers would get a player who hits like James Harrison, covers like William Gay, and catches the ball like Ike Taylor.  Only one of those three things is good.


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12 Comments to “The Steelers’ challenges (part 1)”

  1. John#21 says:

    Thomas would be a good pick if we go that way. He is thought of as being the most instinctive DB in the draft. Good on run support and a real ball hawk-a true FS. Thomas is a guy that you choose at #18. Kyle Wilson & Devin McCourty are others who are ‘risers’ after the Combine. However, I doubt that either of those two would be #1 on the Steelers board at #18. Now, if the Steelers are in a mind to move up (though unlikely because of what it would cost to break into the top 10) Eric Berry is stud. As always, it all comes down to who the Steelers have as the highest rated player on their board and with so many needs, they could go a number of different ways. Names to consider: Iupati OG; T.Williams OT: Bulaga OT; Weatherspoon - LB and D. Williams DT.

  2. John#21,
    Great comments. If the Steelers wait until the second or 3rd round to take a safety, then some of those players might enter the conversation. But I think there will only be 3 safeties taken in the 1st round.

    I like all of the names that you mentioned as potential picks for the Steelers. I can guarantee you that each of those names is going to be mentioned when I get to their respective positions.

  3. Our STEELERS need to resign Clark ASAP. Carter is not half as good as Clark. As previosuly mention they wont go after Rolle and I dont think Sharper will repeat the season he had ever again. Mundy cant be trusted back there. And what if Troy were to get hurt AGAIN? I CANT SIT THROUGH ANOTHER SEASON OF TERRIBLE DEFENSE. Berry wont be available for the 18th pick. Mays scares me (remember Scott Sheilds). Im seriously concerned about our secondary. A little pass rush would help them out as well. (HARRISON HELD ON EVERY PASS PLAY). Woodley came on to late…


  5. I have felt all along that it was very obvious without 43 our secondary was very questionable. I agree that we need to draft another safety, not a cornerback, like a lot of the local newspaper guys say. I do not have a problem with Clark walking, but we do need to have someone else. Someone needs to start ahead of William Gay and Taylor needs to quit slacking and play to his potential. And if we spend all of our draft picks on defense this year, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings either, though I know that will not happen.

  6. Donald,

    I can’t say that I know much about the safties in this year’s draft other than Eric Berry. I live in Tennessee and I bleed orange (on Saturdays of course). We have not felt as good about a UT player since, you guessed it…Peyton. This guy is the real thing. You know, if this draft is as deep as people say it is, it shouldn’t be a stretch for the Steelers to shock the world and go get him. Won’t happen though.

    Anyway, here is my comment. Ryan Clark is NOT who you want to be 2nd on the team in tackles. That means too many catches in the secondary. I know that some of those tackles were in the box but most were in the secondary. We need DLs and LBs leading in that department.

    And kickers should be last in tackles. Oh wait, he was!

  7. itiswhatitis says:

    I agree with most of your post except for your description of Mays mays is exactly what we need.Dick would have a field day using this kid and yes he is a strong safety have you seen our d without troy last year and two years ago.I hate to say it but having a player who we could still use like troy if he gets hurt(fingers crossed,knock on wood)would solve all our problems defensively.

    Also comparing his hands to ikes is pretty bad they never threw the ball anywhere near him his senior year

  8. Itiswhatitis,
    I guess we watched two different players when we watched USC games. The Taylor Mays that I saw is an incredible athlete who can cover a lot of ground, but who lacks ball skills and coverage skills. Defenses didn’t avoid him. They attacked him. Moreover, he had NO interceptions this year. That’s right, ZERO. In fact, he has only had 4 interceptions in his entire career. Like I said, he has hands like Ike Taylor. But he blows people up like Sean Taylor.

  9. John#21 says:

    Mays is intriguing! What a freakish athlete! I have not seen him play too much. There are a lot of blogs out there that talk about how he struggled in coverage. He seems like a high risk/high reward player that our Steelers tend to shy away from in round 1. If we re-sign Clark-and I hope we do-Mays becomes a consideration because we can afford to sit him for a while. If not, we either have to draft a more ready prospect or sign a FA. I’m not excited about starting the season with a depth chart that has either Mundy or Carter at the #1 spot.

  10. John#21,
    That’s pretty much where I am on both issues. Mays’ size and athleticism is intriguing, but he’s not ready to play right now. Maybe he can be coached up, maybe he can’t. After all, he spent his college career in a great program (USC) with great coaches, but he still didn’t develop the necessary skills.

    I couldn’t have said it any better about Mundy and Carter. A starting lineup that includes either of them is not something I want to see.

  11. Except for Troy, USC players lately have not done much. That is why Mays scares me, not his raw ability. Berry would be great, but I agree he will not be at # 18. What if we wait a few rounds for a guy Myron Rolle. Not a great athlete, but his obvious intelligence would make him a great centerfielder that reads plays would fit well behind Troy’s aggressive style. Just a thought.

  12. Drafting Mays would make more sense if we moved Polamalu to free safety. Think about it, unlike Mays, Polamalu has tremendous cover skills in addition to his linebacker-like physicality. Although we would miss his production in run-support, I have no doubt he would still be an impact player as a pure ball hawk (like Ed Reed), and getting him away from fighting for loose balls with 350lb lineman would mean more games per season and more years in his career.


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