Friday, March 02, 2007

Getting Draft Ready --
Assessing the Secondary

This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult groups to assess. On the one hand the secondary showed steady, significant progress during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Conversely, because of injuries (most notably to Troy Polamalu) and inconsistent play (that means you, Ike Taylor) this group took a big step backwards in 2006.

The safety position is an obvious strength for the Steelers. Though he struggled with a nagging injury, and his skills as a pass rusher were largely neutralized by enhanced blocking schemes by opponents, Troy Polamalu is one of the best strong safeties in the National Football League (and a free agent at the end of next season). At the free safety, Ryan Clark had the type of season that makes an observer realize just how talented the Steelers' scouts and front office staff are; and as if that wasn't enough the depth at safety -- Tyrone Carter, Mike Logan, and rookie Anthony Smith all saw considerable playing time (though some of it was filling in at the corners, the Steelers safeties had the third highest number of man-games played in the AFC, 70)-- is most impressive.

Then there is the cornerback position. Ike Taylor's struggles -- at covering receivers and catching passes -- have been well-chronicled. On the other side of the field Deshea Townsend excelled, if only in comparison to the struggling Mr. Taylor. Behind them are Anthony Madison, who played reasonably well --- his high-stepping interception and subsequent tongue-lashing from Dick LeBeau not withstanding -- and Bryant McFadden who, when he plays well plays very well, but was seemingly inconsistent during 2006. It seems obvious that the cornerback position is very much in need of strengthening.

The Steelers have a good mix of youth and experience in the secondary, but stronger cover corners are definitely going to be on the team's shopping list going into free agency and the draft.

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