Key position No. 2: New faces will abound in secondary

By Gerry Dulac 8 years ago

For the next two weeks, we will look at the five positions that will hold the key to the 2015 season that begins Sept. 10 in New England. We will provide a general rundown, identify the strength and weakness and pick the one player who is ready to have a breakout season.

Today: Secondary.

The Steelers focused on improving the back end of their defense after allowing 15 pass plays of 40 yards or longer last season, including seven of 51 yards or longer.

And they did it by bringing in young bodies in the draft.

Gone are two long-time mainstays -- Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor. In are third-year safety Shamarko Thomas, who finally steps in to replace Polamalu after being a third-round choice in 2013; and a pair of rookies, No. 2 pick Senquez Golson and No. 4 Doran Grant.

Both rookies will be given a chance to play, especially Golson, who, despite his size (5-8 ½), gives the Steelers something they haven’t had in a long time – a ball-hawking corner.

The key will be whether Cortez Allen can bounce back after being benched for poor play to reclaim one of the starting corners. Veteran Willie Gay is back after a season in which he had three interception returns for touchdown and will keep the seat warm until Golson is ready.But the team lost Brice McCain in free agency, meaning Antwon Blake will get more of a chance to play if the rookies are slow to transition to the pro game.

Free safety Mike Mitchell, who was signed in free agency last season, should be better because he doesn’t have to worry about covering for Polamalu.They will need that to stem the plethora of big pass plays that have hurt the team the past two season.

STRENGTHS: There aren’t many, but Gay has been more than solid on the boundary or as a nickel back.

WEAKNESSES: Lots of personnel turnover and new faces that will take time to mesh.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Mitchell. He says he played with two injured groins most of last season that hampered his mobility. Regardless, if he can avoid the missed tackles and bad angles from last season, he should be much improved.

NEXT: Wide receiver