Steelers cornerbacks Allen, Gay, Taylor have something to prove
There's a new safety playing behind them, a rookie linebacker and rookie defensive end playing in front of them.
Opposing offenses are operating at a Daytona 500-type pace, and more penalty flags are being tossed than ever — many because of them. Offensive play-callers are using analytical tools to create favorable matchups against them.
This isn't an easy time to be an NFL cornerback, especially a Steelers cornerback. Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay have only one preseason game remaining — in which they'll likely play little, if it all — to get ready for a season that is expected to offer more offense than ever.
“It's an offensive league, and that's what they want,” safety Mike Mitchell said.
But what the Steelers don't want to see again is a performance like Thursday's in Philadelphia.
They seemed incapable of controlling an Eagles offense that rolled up and down Lincoln Financial Field creating waves of yardage, exposing flaws in Pittsburgh's secondary.
“That's the way the NFL is going. The offenses and the offensive gurus are trying to put out multiple receivers and still run the ball because they know you have to take a big guy (run defender) out to put in a (defensive back),” Gay said.
The Steelers attempted to get younger and faster along the defensive line and at linebacker and safety during the offseason, but the cornerback group mostly was left intact. Starting Sept. 7 against Cleveland, they'll find out if that was a fatal flaw.
“We want to be on the incline, and that's the direction we're headed to being as a veteran group,” Gay said.
But to date in the preseason, there appears to be reason for concern.
The defense is ranked second lowest in the league through three games, the pass coverage is sixth lowest and the run defense is fourth lowest, according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen grades out as the 191st worst among the league's top 192 cornerbacks. Gay is 132nd, and Taylor is 96th following a season in which he allowed more than 1,000 yards receiving.
There are other issues that could influence this group's play.
Allen is in a contract year and likely must re-sign by next week if he is to get a new deal from the Steelers. Taylor took a $4.25 million pay cut to stay with the team and is unsigned for 2015. And Gay, despite easily being the team's highest-graded cornerback last season, isn't officially classified as a starter.
“Either you get the job done, or you don't,” Taylor said. “And if you don't get the job done, you know the consequences.”
For the Steelers, that could mean a radically reshaped cornerbacks group in 2015.
Still, coach Mike Tomlin suggests many of the issues are just preseason concerns.
“I really think they've done a great job of embracing the challenge they're facing (regarding) the point of emphasis (defensive contact) and showing the ability to move forward after negative things happen, when flags are on the ground,” he said. “That's really a sign of maturity.”
For now, the cornerbacks will work on developing more continuity with new starting safety Mitchell, who replaces eight-year starter Ryan Clark.
“You've got to go through some growing pains,” Gay said. “But he fits our philosophy — great guy, great teammate. … He's willing to listen. We're willing to listen to him.”
Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier sometimes found himself out of place in the Eagles game and needed to be corrected, but Gay said he's a fast learner, just like rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
“It's fun when you have a young guy like Ryan. … (He's saying) ‘I may not understand the philosophy of the NFL, but I'm going to do it at 100 mph,' ” Gay said.
Or what must seem like the speed of the game today to a Steelers cornerback.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Photo gallery: Steelers 1st-round draft picks
- Most talent in NFL Draft play at Steelers’ positions of need
- Steelers receiver Brown attends workouts despite previous comments
- Rossi: Steelers should corner the market at NFL Draft
- Former soccer goalie Lambo chasing NFL dream
- NFL Draft preview: Sizing up the specialists
- A host of top NFL Draft picks figure to be versatile defensive linemen
- Washington’s Shelton grows into big role, looks forward to draft
- NFL Draft preview: QB crop thin after top 2
- High risk, reward with 1st-round quarterbacks in NFL Draft
- Steelers wrap up pre-draft visits with four defensive players