This unit got a lot of negative publicity during the 2002 season and for good reason. Not only did the defensive backs allow too many big plays, they also failed to make many big plays of their own.
How bad was it? Linebacker Joey Porter tied with free safety Brent Alexander
for the team lead in interceptions with four. And while the team¹s overall
interception total of 19 wasn¹t bad, when you consider opponents threw the
ball 573 times against the Steelers - a 3.3 interception percentage - it
isn¹t all that hot.
Chad Scott had perhaps his worst season since as a professional, picking off
just two passes and defending 17 others. He finished the season tied for
second on the team with 85 tackles, which should show exactly how much he
was picked on last season. But Scott played better after a slow start,
showing some hope for 2003.
Scott remains the Steelers most talented cornerback and should bounce back
this season. His decision not to play in the team¹s playoff opener against
Cleveland because of a broken hand was clearly a disappointment to head
coach Bill Cowher and provides some insight into Scott¹s heart. Grade C
Dewayne Washington had an especially tough time in 2002. Like Scott, he was
picked on by different teams and seemed to play the entire season
But at least part of the reason for Scott and Washington¹s troubles stemmed
from the fact they knew they had little help deep and could not afford to
let a receiver get behind them. Instead, they allowed the ball to be caught
in front of them. Washington did finish with 20 passes defensed, two forced
fumbles, three interceptions and one fumble recovery. He¹s getting up in
age, but he can still be effective. Grade C-
Brent Alexander returns for his ninth season in the league and the free
safety may be about at the end of his run. Never the fastest player,
Alexander relied more on guile to get by. But he no longer had what
quickness he once had and will be in a battle to keep his position this
year. Players with Alexander¹s smarts and football sense usually hold onto
their jobs longer than they probably should. Grade D+
The Steelers traded up in the first round of the draft for the first time in
team history to acquire Troy Polamalu. And no matter what Cowher says,
Polamalu is expected to be the team¹s starting strong safety, replacing Lee
Flowers. Polamalu will add some much-needed speed to the secondary, but
hamstring and concussion problems continue to surface and bear watching.
Deshea Townsend is actually one of the better third cornerbacks in the
league. Even so, he¹s a third corner for a reason. He¹s pretty good in
coverage, but his overall lack of size limits what the coaching staff can do
with him. He¹s OK in the slot, but when he was put outside last season in
the dime, he was mismatched against the bigger receivers out there. Grade C-
The knee injury suffered by backup safety Mike Logan in the playoff win over
Cleveland may have contributed to the team¹s loss the following week at
Tennessee as the Steelers were ill equipped to handle such an injury at that
point. Logan¹s not starting material, but he is a playmaker as long
as he¹s not overexposed. How well he comes back from his knee injury remains
to be seen. Grade C-
The Steelers selected safety Chris Hope in the third round of last year¹s
draft expecting him to be their strong safety when Flowers left. He never
really settled into that role or any other, but was a decent special teams
player. Hope will slide over to back up Alexander this season and could win
the starting job with an outstanding training camp. However, unseating the wily
veteran won¹t be easy, especially considering Polamalu will be on the other
side and Cowher won¹t want to inexperienced guys out there. Then again, if
the brass felt he was ready to play, they wouldn¹t have drafted Polamalu.
If Hank Poteat makes the team this season, it will be a miracle. The former
third-round draft pick has never blossomed into anything close to what the
Steelers felt he could be and he¹s run out of time. Grade F
Cornerback Chidi Iowuoma may have been the team¹s best special teams player
last season and could earn a spot again on the roster this season. He¹s
undersized, but he did start two games in a pinch for Detroit two years ago.
Rookie Ivan Taylor will be given every shot to beat out Poteat, while
second-year safety Erik Totten would likely have to beat out Iowuoma for a
special teams spot to have any hope of making the team.
Cornerbacks Rashad Faisen, Nashville Dyer, and safety Russell Stuvaints will
try to earn their keep this season with one of the practice squad spots.
Final analysis: This unit is not as bad as it played last season and could
rise to the middle of the pack in the league if Polamalu is as good as
advertised. If the Steelers switch from a dime to a nickel defense to keep
linebacker Kendrell Bell on the field, that will help the pass rush. The
onus will then be on the corners and safeties to cover better.
Overall position grade C-
Grading The Players - The defensive backs
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