Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Secondary Confident Continuity Will Trump Injuries

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Secondary Confident Continuity Will Trump Injuries

Article excerpt

Injuries - season-threatening and nagging -have thrown a monkey wrench into the Steelers' best-laid plans in the secondary. They used high draft picks the past two years to infuse talent and competition into a beleaguered unit.

Senquez Golson, the 2015 second-round pick who was ticketed for the starting slot corner job, is out for at least the first half of the season and probably more with a foot injury. And 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns, whom the coaches hoped would challenge for a starting outside corner job, has been in and out, but mostly out of practices with a quad injury.

Those circumstances have forced defensive coordinator Keith Butler to move rookie second-round pick Sean Davis, who was expected to challenge Robert Golden for the starting strong safety job, into the vacated slot corner spot, and it has meant still-unproven third-year pro Ross Cockrell remains unchallenged at the corner opposite veteran William Gay.

This has much of Steelers Nation with a finger near the panic button, but that's not the case with veteran safety Mike Mitchell. The circumstances that forced the Steelers to abandon their offseason plans have paved the way for continuity among the four players who will be playing the most snaps.

Mitchell and Gay started all 16 games last season. Cockrell started seven and Golden three. According to Mitchell, the cohesion will go a long way toward a better start to the 2016 season.

"We didn't really have to learn how each other thinks or anything," Mitchell said. "It's just a natural progression of guys playing together in the same scheme. We have some new guys - Artie B. and Sean D. - we're still bringing them up to speed. But I'm happy with the progress we made as a group."

And they're light years ahead of where they were at this time a year ago. Last August, the Steelers were still trying to figure out the starting lineup in the preseason. They were living with the mistakes of Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen.

Thomas wasn't supplanted by Will Allen until four days before the season opener against the Patriots. Cortez Allen was part of the plan before he was replaced after the New England game. He never played another snap last season and remains unemployed after the Steelers cut him over the winter.

The changes early last season meant all new communication had to take place among the new players, and it took some time before the unit jelled. …

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