Pittsburgh Steelers' Positional Breakdown - The Cornerbacks

Jim McMillen@pbblitzContributor IMay 23, 2009

With our offensive breakdown of the quarter backs, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive line now in the books, it is now time to move to the other side of the ball. Our breakdown of the defense will start with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Cornerbacks.

With only Bryant McFadden not returning to his starting role in 2009, this position will remain pretty much 'status quo' from the one that won the Super Bowl last season.

Gay moved up on the depth chart when McFadden signed with Arizona as a free agent. That, coupled with veteran Deshea Townsend becoming more entrenched as the nickel back, opened the door for Gay.

Two years ago, Gay was a little-known, fifth-round draft pick from Louisville. Now, he's on the verge of starting at cornerback for the defending Super Bowl champions. Now on to the breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive secondary.

The Starters

Steelers Position Breakdown of the Defensive Backs

Ike Taylor

For the second consecutive year, Taylor has restructured his contract to help the Steelers gain some cap room and be able to sign other key players. That in it's self shows, off the field, he has character.

On the field Ike is all business. Just ask Chad Ocho Cinco, of the Cinncy Bungals, about his talent. Taylor is still the only DB on Ocho's 'list' to not get checked off. Taylor has the speed and ball skills to be one of the best in the business at his position and has the respect of the leagues top receivers to boot.

Ike's one flaw is his hands and ability to create interceptions. He has possibly dropped more potential int's then the great Rod Woodson every caught. If his skills catching the rock could improve, Ike might be considered a top five NFL cornerback.

Either way he is still one of the best the game has to offer and a few years under Mike Tomlin's tutelage has only made him better. Our suggestion to Ike, here at Pittsburgh Blitz ,is that he no longer packs those butter sandwiches in his lunch on game days.

William Gay 

He played in all sixteen games last year, starting in four of them when McFadden and Deshea Townsend were injured. Gay logged 41 tackles and netted the interception that sealed the Steelers second regular season victory over the Ravens.

Yet the former fifth round draft pick will have to make Steelers fans forget about McFadden as soon as possible. Gay has all the tools to be a solid No. 2 cornerback in the league but lacks the experience required to have gained much notoriety. Though that should change in 2009.

William Gay isn't taking his depth chart promotion for granted, but he is confident as spring workouts get underway that he can be the eventual starting cornerback opposite Ike Taylor. "I'm not a starter yet. It's just penciled in.

That's all a starter means, that I'm penciled in for the first game. Matter of fact, take it back just to the first preseason game," said Gay. "Just knowing the defense, going out there and playing with confidence.

I think that's the biggest thing as a corner, just having a comfort level—what we call a swagger." Gay will compete for now with veteran CB Deshea Townsend, who settled into the nickel back role last season.

Deshea Townsend

A crafty veteran cornerback, Townsend enters his 11th year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though he may have lost a step, Deshea will always be an intelligent player and can make up for his lack of speed with great decision making.

Townsend was regulated to nickel back duties last season after losing the starting job to Bryant McFadden. His place on the depth chart should remain the same for 2009 as well, unless the team decides to make him their primary back up safety and promote one of the other DB's on the team to the nickle spot.

The former Alabama Crimson Tide star is more then a DB though for the Steelers. Townsend is known for his outside speed as a pass rusher and has recorded 15.5 sacks in his career to go along with his 18 interceptions.

In Super Bowl XL, Townsend had a key sack on Matt Hasselbeck of the Seahawks, late in the game to help seal the victory.

Deshea is well known for making key plays at critical moments during his career and his experience should help him remain the Steelers nickle back as well as help the younger players at the position, grow and become better players.

Key Role Players

Fernando Bryant

Originally drafted 26th overall by the Jacksonville Faguars in '99, Bryant has played for a number of teams including the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers and being reunited with college team-mate, Deshea Townsend, midway through the 2008 season. Now that Bryant knows the defense, he should be more of a contributor for the team.

Fernando should be in the mix to be the Steelers dime back and or at least play in the quarter package. His experience is the the main factor he was signed by Pittsburgh and that should also factor into his playing time over the younger DB's on the team. Though Bryant could be in for a battle with the recently signed Keiwan Ratliff, for both playing time and a spot on the team.

Keiwan Ratliff

Fresh off the bus from Indy, the former Bungal and Buccaneer was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers to provide veteran depth to the team and be an insurance policy against the rookies, Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett, bombing out this season.

Ratliff will be in a battle with the two afore mentioned players and Fernando Bryant for playing time and a spot on the team though.

Ratliff has seen limited time on the field the past two seasons while playing for the Colts but has shown promise in his career.

He has the potential to play the position but has not shown it thus far as a member of any other team. More then likely Ratliff will end up being camp fodder but he does have a shot at being a key role player for the Steelers if he steps up his game this summer.

The Rookies

Keenan Lewis

A third round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2009 NFL draft, Lewis has good size at 6'0 and 208 lbs. He has long arms, great instincts and awareness and reads and reacts quickly. Lewis also has excellent hands and ball skills and is said to be able to leap over the moon. A very physical, hard worker who can support in the run game. Bla..Bla..Bla.

Lewis was a four year starter at Oregon State so he has plenty of game time under his belt. The problem is it is college experience and not that of an NFL professional. Lewis will need time to learn the Steelers complicated defense and grow into a roll on the team.

He has a shot at the fourth DB spot but it's a long shot this season with two crafty vets ahead of him on the roster. He has a ton of untapped potential and could turn out to be a great pick or a bust down the road, only time will tell which.

Joe Burnett 

A record setting cornerback and returner for the UCF Knights who was named a first-team All-American as a senior in 2008, helped UCF to its first two bowl berths and the school's first ever conference championship in 2007.

Burnett Earned a total of eight career All-Conference USA honors, including a four-year sweep of the first-team punt returner award. Named Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year as a senior. 

Burnett had 16 career interceptions and broke up 35 others. Joe also returned 96 punts for 1,304 yards (13.6 avg.) with three touchdowns and returned 26 kickoffs for 745 yards (28.7 avg.) and a pair of scored.

Burnett also has qood size for a DB in the NFL at 5'11 and 185 lbs. The problem is he was not drafted predominately for his cornerback skills but what he can bring to the return game. Burnett is a burner and his skills in the kick and punt return games are what will make or break him in Pittsburgh.

He is a long shot to even make the final 53 unless he earns time on the special teams units or wows the coaches with his skills while lining up across from the WR's. A ton of potential but even more to prove before he can be considered a real Pittsburgh Steeler.

The Safeties

Troy Polamalu

Better known as the  "Tasmanian Devil" of the defense, Polamalu is as important to the Steelers as energizer is to that annoying little bunny. Troy can do it all and usually does with the passion of a scud missile on every snap of the ball.

He lines up all over the field and causes chaos for every quarter back he faces. He has full range and basically calls his own number each play. Some times he drops into coverage and others he zones in on the quarter back or  ball carrier and lays the smack down.

One big issue is of concern for Polamalu in 2009 though, he is a the co-cover athlete for Madden NFL 10. Along with the honor of having his picture on the cover of the best selling sports game, comes the curse. Better known as the Madden Curse in the gaming world.

As 9 out of 10 athletes who grace the cover have an injury riddled or down year of statistics that same season. Hopefully this being the first time two athletes are on the cover of the game, the curse will skip one or both of those players.

Look for it to effect Larry Fitzgerald and leave big Troy alone or EA is gonna have some 'splaining to do to the Steeler Nation.

Ryan Clark

Originally signed as an un-drafted free agent by the Giants in 2002 before joining the Redskins for a stint and currently the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ryan Clark is a safety that would make any boxer proud. He hits like a mack truck and seldom is out of place during passing plays. He is smart and a solid supporter in the run game as well.

The one problem Clark has had during his time with the Steelers is staying healthy. Last season was his first with almost no time riding the pine due to the pangs of the game.

He enters the final year of his contract when the season begins and could be a cap casualty if he and the Steelers can't work something reasonable out as far as his contract goes. Clark is an important cog in the wheel and we hope a deal gets done soon.

Key Role Players

Tyrone Carter

"Chowder" is what his friends call him but "old man" is more like it. At age 33 and in his ninth NFL season Carter could be the odd man out come cut down time.

He is a smart player but his size or lack there of, high mileage and low rate of speed have him possibly on the outside looking in with youngsters Ryan Mundy and Roy Lewis looking to make the roster as safeties for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We have a feeling here at Pittsburgh Blitz that Carter will get beat out this summer by both Lewis and Mundy for a spot on the team. Also with Deshea Townsend possibly moving to safety Carter's days in the Burgh could be numbered. So with that said we say "See ya shorty."

Youth in the wings

Ryan Mundy 

A sixth round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008, Mundy signed with the the team, got hurt and then cut then resigned to the practice dummies. After a season in the Steelers system though Ryan could be ready to be elevated to the 53 man squad and unseat Tyrone Carter as the primary back up safety this season.

He is a tough kid out of West Virgina who was not invited to the NFL Combine. However, Mundy did work out at the university's Pro Day on and was able to catch the eye of the Steelers scout in attendance.

Look for Mundy to improve on last season and make the final cuts this time around, that is if he can stay healthy.

Roy Lewis

Signed as a rookie free agent by the Steelers on April 28, 2007 but has not been able to crack the 53 man roster since. A career practice dummy so far but Lewis has shown plenty of promise during pre-season games and this could be the year he makes the final cuts.

Lewis seems to have a better then average nose for the ball as he found himself in on a few nice broken up passes when he got the chance to play during previous pre-season games for the Steelers.

As converted CB, Roy should add some youth and speed to the Steelers safety position as well as another pair of hands to help create turnovers. Look for Lewis to be the main reason Tyrone Carter finds himself unemployed and living under the sixth street bridge at the end of training camp.

Derrick Richardson 

Who the hell his he? Don't worry he won't get issued a Steelers uniform for long. Hell he might not even get a chance to get it dirty before he gets sent packing. So we won't even both to discuss him further.

Camp Battles

Fernando Bryant vs. Keiwan Ratliff

The chance of both of these guys making the team is slim to none. With so much youth on the depth chart father time will catch up with one of these two before the final pre-season bell rings.

It should be a hard fought camp battle but look for the year of experience Bryant already has in the Steelers defense to be too much for Ratliff to over come.

Prediction: seventh round knock out by Bryant who earns the right to hold down the dime spot long enough for Keenen Lewis to get his feet under him and learn the play book.

Ryan Mundy vs. Roy Lewis vs. Tyrone Carter vs. Who the hell is he 

This camp battle is one for the ages, as in youth verse senior citizens. There is only room on the team for two of these guys and here at Pittsburgh Blitz we are in the mindset of the Eskimos when it comes to old folks. Time to send them out to sea.

Prediction: Look for youth to over come experience in these battles as Mundy and Lewis lay the smack-down on the old man and what's his name.

Well that’s the lowdown on the defensive backs, thanks for reading and your comments are always welcome. Let us know what you think.

*Check back soon for the 7th edition of this 9 part series. Next up we will be the breakdown of the Linebackers.

*We did not mention Anthony Madison because here at Pittsburgh Blitz we feel he is nothing more then a special teams player so why bothe


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