Steelers cornerbacks are vowing to be better tacklers
Steelers cornerbacks practiced with a chip on their shoulders Wednesday. They had to prove to the Buffalo Bills — and themselves — that they are tough enough.
The entire secondary has faced intense scrutiny for being soft against the run the past two seasons. And the corners still have visions of last season when Adrian Peterson sprinted 60 yards for a score at Wembley Stadium and Terrelle Pryor high-stepped 93 yards virtually untouched.
Then, in the preseason opener, another jolt of reality struck when New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings gutted the defense for a 73-yard touchdown run. The defensive front got pushed around, but the Steelers' last line of defense didn't put up a fight.
“It's always been the mindset of the Steelers' cornerbacks that we must tackle well,” said Cortez Allen, a fourth-year cornerback. “We came into camp putting a lot of emphasis on tackling. It's about willpower and what you have inside of you.”
As the Steelers prepare to face the Bills in their first preseason home game Saturday at Heinz Field, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake is again emphasizing a need to shore up tackling, particularly by his cornerbacks.
“You can put the blame on the secondary for big runs,” veteran cornerback William Gay said. “Once a runner gets by the linebacker, we have to prevent the long run, and we didn't do that last year. So that's what our focus has been in training camp.
“It's an ongoing process, but we'll correct it. It's a want to — a desire to get it done.”
Steelers cornerbacks — including Gay, Allen, Ike Taylor, Shaquille Richardson and Antwon Blake — have worked overtime on technique. Sometimes they aren't nearly as focused on coverage as they are with tackling.
“When you've got your corners tackling, it makes the whole defense better,” Taylor said. “It just brings a different dimension to the defense.
“We don't want to blow assignments, but at the same time we can't miss tackles. So much of what we do defensively depends on the corners stopping the run and holding receivers to very few yards after a catch.”
The Steelers finished 21st against the run last year after finishing second in 2012. They figure if they can hold teams to less than 80 yards rushing, they will have a decisive advantage.
“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.”
For Gay, tackling is an attitude. It's a willingness to be tough.
“We're looking for fighters back there,” Gay said. “We pride ourselves on competing on every play regardless if it's good or bad.”
If nothing else, the Steelers have talked a tough game all week. But they will need to be fundamentally sound when they host AFC North rival Cleveland on Sept. 7 at Heinz Field in the season opener.
“If you don't have the right attitude or feel like you're one of the best corners in the league, you're not going to last,” Taylor said. “We have to tune out the negativism because only the mentally strong survive.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.