Steelers Secondary: Has Depth Been Compromised?
Two-time Super Bowl Champion Bryant McFadden was on his way to being the real deal: a shut down corner.
McFadden will receive five million dollars in the first year, including a $3.75 million salary and an opportunity to compete for a starting position.
It has been reported that the four-year veteran will compete with seven-year veteran Rod Hood to start opposite second year vet Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Cardinals hope this acquisition will bolster their secondary and promote a smooth transition for cornerback Antrel Rolle to free safety.
In 2008, McFadden played in 10 games during the regular season, starting in eight and recorded two interceptions. He missed six games after breaking his forearm, which required surgery, but he recovered in time to start all three playoff games, including the Super Bowl.
Free agency has compromised depth in the secondary.
Historically, the Steelers do not put as much value in the cornerback position as they do others. Remember in 1997, the Steelers elected not to renew CB Rod Woodson’s contract due to salary cap issues.
With the loss of McFadden, the need to replace him is dire.
The Steelers released CB Fernando Bryant. Initially signed for depth, Bryant had little to contribute in 2008. However, the Steelers did resign unrestricted free agent Anthony Madison and second year cornerback, Roy Lewis.
Even with these transactions there are a couple of other options to consider. One is to move 12-year veteran Deshea Townsend back into his previous role. Take into consideration, he is 33-years-old.
The Steelers can promote third year cornerback William Gay.
Last season, Gay started four games when injuries sidelined McFadden and Townsend. Gay did well enough that he logged significant playing time even after McFadden returned from a broken forearm.
The Steelers are high on Gay as the likely replacement, and he will get first crack at McFadden's old job.
The real question is can Gay develop into the guy who can replace McFadden full-time?
As a fifth round pick in the 2007 draft, Gay spent most of his rookie year on the field in the nickel package and as a part of the special teams unit.
In his first preseason, Gay impressed the Steelers by catching a pair of interceptions. He played in all 16 games of the regular season, most of the time on special teams, recording 19 tackles and two pass defenses.
In 2008, while McFadden and Townsend were sidelined for four games due to injuries, Gay paired with Ike Taylor and helped in wins against SD, CIN, NE, and DAL. He recorded 19 tackles and three pass defenses.
In week 15, Gay stopped what could have been a winning drive for BAL by picking off a Joe Flacco pass to Derrick Mason and returning it to the Steelers 11 yard line.
Gay finished the regular season with seven pass defenses, one INT, and 41 total tackles. During the postseason, Gay was back on special teams, nickel defenses, and substitution play, but stayed in the CB rotation through the Super Bowl.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was asked recently if he felt William Gay was capable of starting full-time.
LeBeau said that Gay has answered any questions about whether he is capable, and that he played almost an equal number of snaps as McFadden. He believed that the Steelers have "a good, quality player there who should continue to grow."
The Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII with a unit that yielded the fewest points in the NFL in 2008. Gay was an integral part of it.
Another option is for the Steelers to continue to look into free agency for a veteran presence. Finally, there is the draft next month.
Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert said cornerback is one of the two deepest positions in this year's draft.
Some of the top corners being considered who could go in the first or second round are Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State (6'0, 200 lbs), Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore (5'10", 184 lbs), Vontae Davis of Illinois (6'0, 204 lbs), and Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest (5'9", 193 lbs).
The Steelers are interested in one particular corner that could go in the second round. That corner could be Connecticut's Darius Butler, considered athletic, aggressive, and is also a kick returner.
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