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Senquez Golson needs to be special to make Steelers roster

| Saturday, July 15, 2017, 8:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers cornerback Senquez Golson goes through drills during practice at training camp Saturday, July 30, 2016, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers cornerback Senquez Golson suffered a Lisfranc injury Aug. 1. He was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 8.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers cornerback Senquez Golson goes through drills during practice at training camp Saturday, July 30, 2016, at St. Vincent.

Two years removed from being drafted in the second round, Senquez Golson no longer has to impress defensive backs coach Carnell Lake in order to make the Steelers' roster.

His fate on the 53-man roster apparently will depend on how much he also impresses special teams coach Danny Smith.

Before the Steelers concluded minicamp last month, Lake laid out a challenge for Golson, the former Mississippi corner whose first two seasons were wiped out by injury before he played a meaningful down.

“He's going to have to make this team on two different levels,” Lake said. “He'll have to make it as a special-teams guy, and he'll have to make it and compete for playing time in the secondary. There is a lot on Senquez's plate.”

Golson's tenuous spot on the roster will be a focal point when the Steelers open training camp July 27 at St. Vincent College. It will be Golson's third — and most important — trip to Latrobe and the ensuing preseason games.

“At this point, the only thing I am missing is the in-game experience,” Golson said. “I've pretty much got the basics down.”

After missing his rookie season with a shoulder injury, Golson injured his foot in training camp last year and spent a second consecutive year on injured reserve. Wary of Golson being able to contribute after such a lengthy layoff, the Steelers this spring drafted cornerbacks Cameron Sutton in the third round and Brian Allen in the fifth. They also signed veteran free agent Coty Sensabaugh.

“It's the reality,” Golson said when asked about the Steelers moving on with other players at his position. “Just like any other guy who has missed two years, that's the reality of it. But I gotta do what I gotta do.”

What Golson will have to do is show he can play special teams, likely as a gunner on coverage units.

“Being looked at as a second-round guy, we're going to expect more out of him just because where we got him even though he missed two years,” Lake said. “Being (that he has been) in the system two years, more is expected of him as well.”

With Artie Burns emerging as a starting cornerback in his rookie season and Ross Cockrell occupying the other outside spot, Golson's best chance of playing time appears to be in the slot. During organized team activities and minicamp, Golson got playing time as the nickel cornerback, but not usually with the first team.

“We're not holding back in any way,” Lake said. “We're not worried about that now. I've got 17 bodies in the secondary, and there are only so many snaps I can divide among the number of guys.”

Allen, the converted wide receiver from Utah, is in a similar predicament. His path to a roster spot will depend on his ability to play special teams. Having spent just one year at cornerback in college, Allen could be headed to the practice squad to continue his development at the position.

“He's learning,” Lake said. “The thing that is holding Brian back now is where he is on the depth chart. He's not getting as many reps as the second stringers are. He's not able to progress. Experience alone is going to accelerate your play and progression.”

Expect Allen and Golson to get that experience in the early preseason games when starters play a limited number of series.

“Guys like Brian and Senquez — all of the younger guys — they are all competing, and they are all competing on the same levels, in my room and on specials,” Lake said. “There's two gunners on special teams. If you're not one of those gunners, our special teams coach better have an eye on you for another position on those teams.

“Otherwise, you're sitting on the sidelines. If you're sitting on the sidelines, then you're behind.”

And likely not making the team.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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