The Steelers welcomed Carnell Lake as their only change in coaching staff for the 2011/12 season on Monday. I interpret that change to mean the Steelers realize that even with a juggernaut at safety like Troy being totally healthy, our secondary is suspect at best. I could riddle you with stats (and by “I could” I mean, “I’d have to look them up and I’m too lazy to do so”) about how quarterbacks that play a spread offense – Brady, Manning, Rodgers, etc. – completely pick us apart every time we face them (I was at the Patriots game last year), but I know you know what I’m talking about. After all, we got a nice national showing of it on Feb 6th, 2011. A. Rodg tore us up, and it hurt us bad.
Though most of the time the Defense is the least of my worries, the secondary is a cause for concern. I hope that Lake can bring his knowledge as a DB who recorded 16 interceptions, 25 sacks and 826 tackles as a Steeler, to the fore and groom young players like Crezdon Butler and Keenan Lewis to step up and play. The standard is the standard as Tomlin always says, and it’s time for these guys to step up and take over the CB positions.
Yes, I realize they aren’t ready. I’ve been just as frustrated about their contribution, or lack thereof, as you. Thankfully for the Steelers, it’s relatively normal for guys to take a few years to develop in to quality contributing players. At a time when Willy Gay gets the nod at corner when BMac is hurt, we need these guys to produce more than ever.
As a player, Lake was praised for his speed and his aggressive hits on the field. His instincts and brains were well-developed enough to move him from safety to corner when Rod Woodson went out with an injury in ’95. As a coach at UCLA, his numbers in the secondary were good, but with only a one year sample to look at, it is hard to say how he will fare with a less than spectacular core of cornerbacks. Add to that the possible loss of our only real competent CB in Face Me Ike, and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands.
I love Ike Taylor and I think the Steelers would be making a big mistake not signing him to another deal before this season. Even if Carnell is able to groom someone like Keenan Lewis in to a competitive corner, that still leaves us with BMac and Willy Gay on the other side. At the beginning of Summer workouts last season, the player turning the most heads in the secondary was actually rookie Crezdon Butler. Obviously the ideal situation would be that Butler and Lewis are playing so well that the Steelers feel they can let Ike go in free agency. It wouldn’t be the first time the Steelers made a move like that one.
The reason I like Ike so much though, is because he’s one of the emotional leaders on the field. He’s certainly the only corner I hear ask for the #1 receiver on opposing teams. He’s definitely the only Corner with any kind of swagger or intimidation, which goes a long way in this league. I believe his Twitter name even has something to do with swaggin’.
Apart from his slew of bonehead penalties, Keenan Lewis actually has some promise to develop under Lake. Though his mistakes would sometimes infuriate me, his fire on the field, if channeled, could lead to him being a very competitive and explosive corner.
It will be a test for Carnell Lake, to say the least. He is walking in to coaching one of the best defenses in the league led by his former coach Dick LeBeau, and he has a standard to which his DBs will be expected to conform. I’ll put it this way, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ike were resigned, and our starting lineup were exactly the same as last year. I also wouldn’t be too surprised if Butler and Lewis were our starting corners within the next year or two. The real x-factor is Carnell Lake. Let’s hope he has a huge impact on our secondary. Sure would be cool for such a great Steelers player to become a great Steelers coach.