During the 2008 NFL Season, the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed having the best pass defense in the NFL. That same defense led them to their sixth Lombardi Trophy. It seemed a long way away from the days of Chad Scott, Dewayne Washington and Lee Flowers.
But the 2009 season was considerably different. The Steelers were ranked 16th against the pass. And that led them to an early off season, not qualifying for the playoffs.
The biggest difference between 2008 and 2009 were the departure of Bryant McFadden, and the injury to Troy Polamalu. McFadden is back, and Polamalu is healthy.
So, what can we expect from the Steelers secondary this year?
Corner 1—Ike Taylor. At 6'2", 195 lbs, Ike Taylor is the leader of all Steelers corners. I have said this before, and I will say it again. IF Ike Taylor could learn how to catch a football, he would be one of the top five at the position in the NFL.
He has size, speed, and great at finding the ball. He can bump and run, play zone, play man, and is great in run support.
Taylor will start, and most likely finish the season as the Steelers top corner. Though he is getting up there in age, he still has the skills to be a true shut down corner.
Corner 2—Bryant McFadden. No one realized exactly how much McFadden was going to be missed when he left for the Arizona Cardinals. Will Gay played spot duty for McFadden in 2008, and played it well. But, when other coaches had enough tape to break down his game, he suffered.
McFadden is another six foot tall corner. Though not as fast as Ike Taylor, McFadden makes up for it with technique.
Free Safety—Ryan Clark. It still shocks me to this day, that the Steelers found a way to keep Ryan Clark. I was sure that he was going to be a Miami Dolphin.
Ryan Clark is the perfect compliment to Troy Polamalu. The way Clark plays allows Polamalu to be able to roam the field, and make the kinds of plays that he does.
He is also one of the hardest hitting safety in the game. Don't believe me? Ask Wes Welker.
Strong Safety—Troy Polamalu. With the Madden Curse officially over, Troy Polamalu should return to be the Taz that Steeler fans know and love.
Polamalu plays the game like no one else. He has the speed to cover like a corner, the strength to hit like a line backer, the quickness to blitz, the smarts to know when to back out of it.
If Polamalu is 100 percent, this Steelers defense is 10X better than it was already.
Nickel Back—The Nickel position is going to be one of the most fun battles to watch during training camp.
Will Gay—Had the chance to lock down the No. 2 corner spot last year, and his inability cost the Steelers games. He was also benched late in the year in favor of the slow Deshea Townsend.
Keenan Lewis—Lewis is a third round selection from the 2009 Draft. He has good size, at six feet tall. He does not have blazing speed, but enough to keep up with some of the better receivers.
Lewis was originally drafted as an eventual replacement for Ike Taylor, but injuries hurt his rookie season. Lewis, I believe has the inside track to winning the Nickel corner job.
Joe Burnett—Great speed, good hands, but not very tall. At 5'10", Burnett lacks the size to go against the taller receivers in the NFL. He does have the speed to cover the shorter, faster receivers that line up in the slot.
Burnett will give Lewis everything he can in the preseason, and the winner will be the Nickel.
Crezdon Butler—At 6'1", 191 lbs, Butler looks to be a project that the Steelers are interested in. Butler was taken in the fifth round, and can earn a roster spot by playing great special teams.
Da'Mon Smith-Cromartie—The rookie out of of UTEP, is big and has a boat load of potential. Will probably spend the year on the practice squad.
David Pitman—Probably wont make the team.
Trae Williams—Entering his second season, Williams has practice squad written all over him.
Back up safeties.
Will Allen—Brought in not only as insurance for injury to Clark and Polamalu, he is a special teams ace. One of the biggest areas of concern for the Steelers was special teams and Allen will be able to contribute immediately.
Ryan Mundy—Mike Tomlin seems to like Mundy, because he has given him numerous chances to crack the starting line up. What scares me is that, even with Tyrone Carter as the only other back up, Mundy could not beat him out of the job.
Justin Thornton—Another big rookie safety. The Steelers went big in drafting secondary, and all of those players, Thornton included are going to have to EARN a position on the team or practice squad.