The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports
Starters: Ike Taylor (CB), Cortez Allen (CB), Mike Mitchell (FS), Troy Polamalu (SS)
Cornerback play will be an area of concern all season, especially after the Steelers waited until the fifth round to draft one. Rather than add a young stud to the lineup, they felt comfortable to go with Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen.
Taylor has had a solid training camp and as long as the coaches do not ask him to do too much, is still a starting caliber cornerback. He will benefit from the addition of Mike Mitchell to the secondary.
Mitchell will add an element of speed to the position as he replaces Ryan Clark. After missing a significant portion of training camp with a groin injury, he will need time to adjust to LeBeau’s scheme and to playing with Troy Polamalu.
It has not been a particularly strong start for Mitchell, who took a poor angle on Giants’ running back Rashad Jennings 73-yard touchdown run and was called for two penalties—unsportsmanlike conduct and holding. He must clean up both areas before the start of the season.
This was a problem that the Steelers had last season and one that Taylor pointed out, per Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
“You're not going to have a top defense unless your secondary tackles,” Taylor said. “That's just the way it is because we're the last line of defense. When the front seven breaks down, it's up to the secondary to make a play. If you don't, you're going to have a long season.”
Any concerns about Polamalu’s age should have been eased after his performance on Saturday. Though he missed one tackle and had one penalty, he was running all over the field and throwing his body at offensive players in vintage Polamalu form.
Cortez Allen remains the question mark after a decent training camp. He did not show the growth expected of a player entering his fourth season. Brown typically had his way with him on passing drills, and he hasn’t been particularly impressive during the preseason.
Allen looked to be the cornerback of the future after an outstanding second season in which he had two interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. However, he was temporarily benched last season and never lived up to the potential that he displayed early in his career.
It is early yet, and Allen will get every chance to succeed, but the Steelers do not seem to be sold on his long-term future with the team. They have not offered him a contract extension and do not appear to be ready to do so. If he struggles, expect William Gay to replace him in the starting lineup.