Pittsburgh’s Goin’ to the Super Bowl: Safety in Numbers

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Via Steelers.com

The safety position was one of the few pretty much completely unaffected by free agency. The Steelers didn’t lose (or not re-sign) anyone who had played any significant amount of snaps at the position.

The possible exception is Shamarko Thomas, once considered the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu but ultimately ineffective. But Thomas has played essentially no snaps at safety in the past year—he played six, to be precise. While he was a valuable special teamer when healthy, he missed a lot of time last year with injuries—four weeks with a groin injury and four weeks due to concussion. It seems unlikely he will be back in the Black and Gold.The two principle safeties—Steelers’ Rookie of the Year Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell, are firmly in the fold. Mitchell is signed through 2018 and Davis has three more years on his rookie contract. Behind them are last year’s opening day starter, Robert Golden, who is also signed through 2018, and two depth guys, both of whom are Exclusive Rights Free Agents at the end of 2017—Jacob Hagen and Jordan Dangerfield.

So since the safety position seems pretty solid, let’s take a quick look at how well the incumbents played last season. Mike Mitchell, who was one of the Steelers’ few “splashy” signings back in 2014, was a target of Steeler Nation’s ire when he didn’t live up to the high expectations and healthy contract. However, I think it is fair to say that he has played very well in the last two years. He’s even managed to cut back on the unnecessary penalties while still hitting with conviction.

Sean Davis certainly struggled at first. It is hardly surprising, given that he was both a rookie starting in the Steelers’ defense and that they were actually moving him around from slot corner to safety and back. I wonder how many rookies in the recent history of the Steelers’ defense have not only started as a rookie but played two positions?

And while Davis took a couple of seemingly dumb (and very visible) penalties in the post-season which were not helpful, they weren’t so much dumb as unfortunate. Certainly the coaching staff seemed to be less concerned about them than Davis himself. He’s a bright young man with a bright future, one would assume.

And this hopefully bodes well for the Steelers’ backfield. What a luxury to have a second-year player already thoroughly comfortable with the defense and accustomed to working with his partner. I would expect Davis and Mitchell to take up where they left off.

As for the draft, certainly I would expect the Steelers not to pass up tremendous value at the safety position if it fell into their lap, but it’s hard to see them taking a safety before Day Three otherwise, given the other seemingly more pressing needs on the team. And perhaps not even then.

And finally, as for BLA, the news in the backfield is good. Mike Mitchell is perhaps neither as natty or articulate as Ryan Clark (although perhaps there is something to be said for a bit less articulateness until after retirement,) he is a fine-looking man and a generally good guy, at least if you aren’t heading for the end zone. And while Sean Davis is no Troy Polamalu, either on or off the field, I expect great things of this young man, and expect to see him grow into the very large shoes left behind when Troy retired. Although it is probably too late for the hair, Davis could do no better than to emulate the man in every other way who previously held the job with such distinction.

10 comments

  • There seems to be phenomenal depth at the safety position in this year’s draft, though, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Steelers seek to make this position group even stronger. The Steelers have deployed their nickel package with 5 DB’s on the field a fair bit in recent years, and you can do that either with 3 CB’s and 2 safeties or 2 CB’s and 3 safeties. This year, they may end up in nickel even more to get Vince Williams off the field on passing downs. Robert Golden ended up playing I believe about a 3rd of defensive snaps last year, and while I like Golden as a backup that’s a clear opportunity for an upgrade. Further, Mike Mitchell will be 30 years old this season and is only signed through 2018. Further than that, his contract is structured (if I understand this right) so the Steelers would save $5 million in cap space by cutting him before the final year of his contract. So a rookie drafted this year could see substantial playing time in the nickel package as a rookie, possibly starting his 2nd year, and almost certainly starting in his 3rd year. Despite having two very good starting safeties and a solid backup, there’s still definitely room for another good safety on our roster, so who’s available?

    Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams are top talents who will be long gone by the time the Steelers’ first round pick. Obi Melifonwu has jumped up draft boards since a freakishly good combine performance to join Budda Baker as borderline first rounders. I don’t think the position is worth a first rounder to the Steelers right now, but this just points out that 4 teams in need of a safety are going to be out of the market by the time the Steelers pick in the 2nd.

    After that there’s Marcus Williams, Josh Jones, Marcus Maye, Justin Evans, or John Johnson, who would all be good 2nd round value. Marcus Williams is the most interesting of that group, a former basketballer with an insane 44 inch vertical jump who intercepted almost 25% of the passes thrown his way last year. He’s not the most physical tackler, but with Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell in front of him he could just sit back and ball hawk. He would give us a nice combination of skill sets, and while he really ought to be gone before the Steelers’ 2nd round pick, with at least 4 guys going ahead of him he could fall.

    In the 3rd round, Desmond King is a bit undersized at 5’10, 201, and lacks long speed, but he’s scrappy as all get out and agile enough in coverage to have played both CB and S. He ran the 3 cone drill in the same time as Darrelle Revis. He’s got ball skills too, with 14 career interceptions in college. Tedric Thompson is another ball hawking FS who racked up 7 INT’s and 16 passes broken up last year, but he did so with a pair of NFL CB’s in front of him and he doesn’t offer much as a tackler. Kai Nacua is a combine snub, and I haven’t been able to find much information on him, but he grabbed 12 interceptions for BYU over the past two years and is still better known for his ferocious hitting. He showed great athleticism at his pro day workouts that should address questions about his play speed.

    Also, there’s a guy who played for Air Force named Weston Steelhammer. Weston. Steelhammer.

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  • Steelhammer??? Steelhammer!!!!! At first blush, he’s certainly worth a look. If he ain’t worth a seven, he’s definitely worth signing as a UDFA just for that name. If he makes the team, Homer goes jersey shopping.

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  • I’m with Homer J. Mr. Weston Steelhammer needs to be in the Black and Gold. Can you imagine how tragic it would be if he ended up in, say, Baltimore or Cincinnati?

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  • There are just some guys who – by virtue of their names – are supposed to be football players. Like former Redskins offensive lineman Walter Rock. Or Penn State and Montreal Alouettes Linebacker Steve Smear. Or Colts Linebacker Steve Stonebreaker. It’s one thing for you to pick up a nickname like Crusher or Killer or Bronco, but it’s something more than that to be born with a name like Steelhammer. If anyone can come up with similar surnames that put guys on the path to the gridiron, feel free to chip in.

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