Tuesday, March 11, 2014
An added benefit to Ike Taylor returning
By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH -- Ike Taylor returning for one more season provides some stability at a position where the Pittsburgh Steelers are perilously thin.
It also provides the perfect opportunity for the Steelers to draft two cornerbacks, something they did in 2011 with mixed results, and turn them into Taylor’s shadows.
Among the many things Taylor can teach rookie cornerbacks is how to be a professional. Aside from maybe wide receiver Antonio Brown, no one in the Steelers’ locker room works harder than Taylor.
He is in terrific shape, and his maniacal work ethic is a main reason why Taylor’s play has slipped a little with age but not fallen off dramatically as is often the case for players who are pushing 34.
Taylor returning to the Steelers in 2014 does nothing to minimize their long-term need at cornerback, which is why they have to draft two of them.
The bigger question is whether this is the year the Steelers finally use a first-round pick on a cornerback, something they haven’t done since 1997 when they took Chad Scott with the 24th overall selection.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are at Michigan State's pro day today, according to the Detroit Free Press, and their presence will further fuel speculation that the organization will target Darqueze Dennard with its first-round pick.
Dennard and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert are widely considered the top cornerbacks in what is a deep draft at the position.
A consensus All-American in 2013, Dennard is a physical cornerback who can provide run support as well as stick to opposing wide receivers. He didn’t run a great 40-yard dash time (4.51 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine last month, but his time didn’t raise any red flags either.
Dennard, who broke up 14 passes and made four interceptions in helping the Spartans win the Big Ten in 2013, is the 18th-best player in the draft, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.
Here is what Kiper wrote about Dennard:
He's the most versatile defensive back in the draft, with proven skill in any area of coverage. Dennard can play up and redirect routes or off in zone and make plays in front of him. He'll blanket even really good receivers in man-to-man, and he turns his head well to avoid penalties that could be called were he not to show ball awareness, given how tightly he can play in coverage. It's all there.
Whether the Steelers take Dennard or another cornerback in the first round remains to be seen. They have generally waited until the middle rounds to draft cornerbacks, something they did with the three veteran ones on their roster.
Taylor and Cortez Allen were fourth-round picks, and William Gay was a fifth-round selection.
No matter where the Steelers draft cornerbacks this year, those players will have no better mentor than Taylor.