It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Carnell Lake. Back in 2011 or so I went to a Ladies Training Camp, and Lake was one of the speakers. (I suppose as a newbie he got one of the assignments nobody else wanted.) I was so impressed at the time with the way he took us through some film and talked about working with some of the individual players.
Fast-forward to 2016, and there were more than a few people calling for his head. It was entirely understandable. The Steelers had drafted defensive backs—a lot of them—and the results just weren’t there. It’s certainly reasonable to look to the coaching as at least one of the causes when a given position group has disappointed.
The previous post was getting unwieldy, because there is a great deal to talk about in terms of both Lake and the coaching job he has done so far. In the first post we looked at Lake’s first season (2011) which represented a high point for the secondary. It’s been mostly downhill since. According to Football Outsiders, the 2012 team dropped to No. 15 in the league, the 2013 team was No. 19, and the 2014 team was No. 30.
But guess what? Last season they finished at No. 13, despite not starting a single defensive back who ranked higher than No. 24, according to Pro Football Focus, among players with enough snaps to be ranked. The highest-ranked corner was Ross Cockrell, at No. 27. The highest-ranked safety was Mike Mitchell, at the afore-mentioned No. 24. They considered Antwon Blake to be essentially the worst corner in the league (and much of Steeler Nation would agree with them, I expect.)
Sung Min Kim/Testudo Times
Safety Sean Davis was one of the guys I covered in my BLA draft posts. Here’s what I had to say at the time:
One thing we know right off about Davis is he’s smart. He is trilingual, speaking English, French, and Chinese. Not too surprisingly, he’s a communications major. That’s a lot of people he can communicate with right there!
He’s obviously a quick study as well, since he only started playing football as a junior in high school. After playing safety there he was moved to cornerback at Maryland, but projects as a safety in the NFL. He noted in an interview that he is more comfortable at safety.
This is going to be a multi-part series, naturally, as quite a few guys have been added to the team in the past few months. Included in this will be the free agent acquisitions, but at least to start we will be focused on the new draftees and UDFAs.
And before we begin, let me make it clear that I have absolutely no football credentials, and am not going to try to evaluate the players in a football sense. I may bring in some information by evaluators who do have such credentials, just for interest’s sake, but honestly, they don’t seem to have a particularly good track record in predicting who will actually succeed, especially beyond the first round. The problem is that there are way too many variables to be able to say how a given player will work out on a given team.
No matter who you are, how great your career, one day, the Turk will come for you. If you are unfamiliar with the Turk, he is football’s version of the Grim Reaper. One of the toughest things for fans to accept is when a long time Steeler favorite reaches the end of the road. Unless you retire on your own terms, à la Heath Miller, the Turk will come.
The player is often not the decision maker of when his time is up. Occasionally, the Steelers have engineered a peaceful end to the career of an iconic player. More often the “retirements” involve some measure of resistance and/or hard feelings. Rarely, do players perceive that the end is near. With most highly competitive athletes, there’s always a rock solid belief that there is one more good season.
Often, the great ones can still play, but not at the level which justifies their compensation and its effect on the team’s salary cap.
Therefore, placid dignified retirements are rare. Heath’s departure was classy and low key. Ike Taylor’s farewell lacked drama too, though surely he saw the Turk approaching. The Bus had a fairytale ending. He was fortunate; life rarely cedes a happily ever after.