PITTSBURGH – This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.
Our eighth look is at the position that is causing Steelers’ fans the most anxiety right now.
Who is new: Brice McCain and Shaquille Richardson. The Steelers signed McCain to a one-year, $795,000 contract after he spent his first five seasons with the Texans. They took Richardson with the first of their two fifth-round draft picks.
Who is gone: No significant losses. Not this year, anyway.
Returning starters: Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen. Taylor is back after agreeing to a pay cut. The 11th-year veteran will be plenty motivated after opposing quarterbacks went after him last season. The Steelers will help Taylor by no longer assigning him to shadow the No. 1 wide receiver – unless maybe when they play A.J. Green and the Bengals. Allen only needs to stay healthy to become a bona fide No. 1 cornerback. A high-ankle sprain set Allen back the first half of last season but he eventually won back his starting job and tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
Most significant addition: Richardson. The Steelers successfully gambled that the Arizona product would still be available when they picked in the fifth round. The 6-foot, 194-pounder has good size and is versatile enough that some teams evaluated Richardson as a safety prior to the draft. Richardson has a chance to play right away given the Steelers’ lack of unproven depth at cornerback.
Most significant loss: A year later the loss of Keenan Lewis still stings. Imagine how much different the position would look with Lewis and Allen as the Steelers’ long-term starters at cornerback. Lewis, who signed with the Saints as an unrestricted free agent, intercepted four passes in 2013. The Steelers’ cornerbacks combined for three interceptions last season. Ouch.
On outside looking in: Isaiah Green. The 5-10, 180-pounder spent a little more than half of the 2013 season on the 53-man roster and appeared in three games. The former undrafted free agent will be among those battling Richardson and Antwon Blake for two spots on the roster.
Hidden number: Thirty-one NFL players had more interceptions than the three the Steelers got from their cornerbacks last season.
Outlook: The Steelers bypassed a cornerback in the first round of the draft to take Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, meanwhile, went to the Bengals with the No. 24 overall pick. Steelers fans will keep a close eye on the player many though they would draft, especially since Dennard is now playing for a division rival. The Steelers are confident that players such as McCain and Blake can provide quality depth, but Allen is the only long-term starting cornerback on the roster right now. Time will be the ultimate arbiter as to whether the Steelers did enough this offseason to help themselves at cornerback.