This is the second in a series of articles exploring each position and the battles going on in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. Today we look at defensive backs.
The Steelers have a nice mixture of veterans and youth in training camp and that makes for some interesting competition for the probable six corner slots to be filled on the final 53-man roster.
The starters appear to be set with Ike Taylor on the left and William Gay taking over for departed Bryant McFadden at right corner.
Taylor is the unquestioned leader of the corners and will be counted on to go against every opponent's best receiver, usually in man-to-man situations. The seven-year veteran is more than up to the task.
There have been problems in camp with Gay dropping sure interceptions. The most recent bobble had head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau talking to Gay away from the rest of the squad.
If Gay, who has looked decent in pass coverage, continues to struggle, look for veteran Deshea Townsend to take over. Townsend has been battling some hamstring issues in camp but has been an effective starter in his career and his leadership skills are unquestioned.
Make no mistake, Tomlin and LeBeau want Gay to emerge as the man. He has youth and quickness on his side, which the 33-year-old Townsend doesn't have any more.
Free agent acquisition Keiwan Ratliff will see a lot of playing time in nickel and dime situations, while Anthony Madison will have to fight off rookies Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis. Roy Lewis appears to be a camp casualty.
Taylor, Gay, Townsend, and Ratliff are locks to make the team with Madison battling Burnett and Keenan Lewis for the final two roster spots.
The Steelers are loaded at the safety position.
Most of the NFL would love to have the depth at safety that Pittsburgh has.
Headlining that depth is SS Troy Polamalu. The five-time All-Pro begins his seventh season in Pittsburgh and has solidified his place as one of the all-time greats in the history of the game.
Polamalu has been fighting nagging hamstring and calf injuries in camp, but should be fine for the start of the regular season.
Veteran Ryan Clark starts alongside Polamalu at free safety. Clark is a solid performer with above average coverage skills.
The Steelers have so much depth that Tyrone Carter comes off the bench. The 10-year veteran would be a starter on most NFL teams. He had an outstanding 2009 season with three interceptions.
Ryan Mundy should hold off Derrick Richardson for the fourth and final roster spot.
The key to success for the Steelers secondary in 2009 boils down to Gay and how he handles the pressures of being a starter. He's going to be challenged constantly this season. If he holds his own, Polamalu and company will take care of the rest.