Any Answers To Steelers' Pass Defense Woes?

A pair of veterans should help, but a pair of talented first-year pickups are also standing in the shadows.

LATROBE -- Mike Tomlin told reporters -- and no doubt his team -- on Sunday that "We've been in a couple stadiums now so we know some of the issues."

The issues?

Well, it can't have anything to do with the first-team offense. But the defense has allowed 355 yards in the four quarters (two first halves) of "varsity" play. And 76 percent of that total has been gained through the air, where the Pittsburgh Steelers have allowed a 77 percent completion rate and a passer rating of 127.7.

The worst-ranked defensive completion percentage in the league last season was 69 percent, and the worst-ranked defensive passer rating was 108.3.

Of course, this is only two halves of the preseason, and help is theoretically on the way in Mike Mitchell.

But how many trust that he'll be the answer?

Second-round CB Senquez Golson won't be much, if any, help with a shoulder injury that's kept him on the PUP list.

Recently acquired Brandon Boykin looks like a talented cornerback, but how long will it take Tomlin to move him up the depth chart? And at 5-9 1/2, Boykin's not going to help all that much with the big No. 1 WRs anyway.

But it's something, as are a couple of first-year street pickups who've turned into the top sleepers at St. Vincent College.

Not that Alden Darby or Kevin Fogg have been asleep.

Far from it. Darby, in fact, told Dale Lolley of The Observer-Reporter, "I will be on a team this year."

Pretty confident for a guy who was called Darby Alden by the team's play-by-play announcer last Friday night.

"I'm a lot more confident than I was last year," Darby said. "I know a lot more about how things operate at this level and what's important, what coaches want to see on tape, so it's kind of just a mindset, not me being cocky.

"I just can't allow myself to go through what I went through last year. I can't allow it."

Last year, Darby was disappointed first on draft day and then on final cutdown day. The Arizona State cornerback-turned-safety expected to be drafted as early as the fourth round last year, but could only catch on after the draft with the San Diego Chargers, who eventually cut him.

"I got a lot of phone calls. A LOT of phone calls," Darby said of draft day. "I would get text messages saying I'm going to get picked up. Calls from John Harbaugh all week long. Text messages from him all week long. That was also kind of tough, too."

Harbaugh? The coach Of the hated Baltimore Ravens?

Does this have a chance to become a payback story down the road?

"Oh yeah," Darby said. "Lotta great payback stories. I can't wait. Lot of them."

After Darby was cut, he didn't hear from an NFL team for a month and a half. More precisely, he didn't hear from his agent, who wouldn't return Darby's calls or texts until the agent's boss called Darby to tell him he had arranged a tryout for a Canadian Football League team. That got the two men talking.

"He and the agent weren't on the same page," Darby said. "I guess the agent had been lying to him. Right after I hung up the phone I fired him immediately. My new agent got me a workout with the Steelers and they signed me right away."

The Steelers like the 5-10, 192-pounder with 4.65 speed. Darby filled in for Mitchell as the starting free safety in the Hall of Fame Game, and entered the second game in the third series. He's made four tackles with a QB hurry in 41 snaps, and made one special teams tackle. He was just a moment too late to stop Blake Bortles from diving to the pylon for a touchdown, but Darby felt better about his performance at the goal line in the fourth quarter.

"I had been out of the game since the second quarter," Darby said. "Coach said, 'Goal line. Get in there.' Your mindset has to trigger from not being in the game to being in there in the heat of the moment real quick. From the transition of sitting to getting in there and doing my job correctly was a positive for me."

Darby's best attribute?

"I pride myself, ever since college, on being smart and understanding concepts," he said. "Coming out of college, '5-10 safety', there were a lot of things they tried to knock me with. I think the game is 95 percent mental. Still to this day I'm learning every single day and I'm trying to learn and grow and learn from the veterans and just understand things a lot better, because there's so much more I still can learn from guys like Will Allen.

"I don't ever want to say I've got a good grip on things, because I'm always learning, but I pride myself on being smart."

The other half of the street-free agent duo is Fogg, the 5-10, 185-pound cornerback, who probably has the better chance to make the Steelers 53-man roster.

Fogg was cut by the Miami Dolphins last August, but signed with the Steelers last January and drew plenty of attention from coaches and teammates for his performance in the spring. He's now battling fourth-round pick Doran Grant and veteran B.W. Webb for presumably the two final spots at the position, and Fogg's producing. He's played 67 snaps with a +2.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. That puts him first among Steelers CBs, ahead of runner-up Boykin (+1.6).

But Fogg isn't about to count players and roster spots. Not again.

"I feel like that's what I did all last year, counting numbers," Fogg said. "It just threw me way out of my game. (Getting cut) was so devastating to me because of all the things that I was trying to worry about and tried to do on my own. It was crazy."

Instead, he's counting his interceptions.

"Oh, I'm counting those," he said with a laugh. "THOSE numbers count."

Before Monday's practice, Fogg led all Steelers with four practice interceptions. He added a fifth in the Hall of Fame Game, but wouldn't count the interception he had at Monday's practice as a sixth.

"I don't count one-on-ones, just team stuff," he said.

Fogg is quick to smile, very relaxed and is another deeply spiritual graduate of Liberty University.

And he makes plays. Constantly.

But he didn't get an interception in Jacksonville. Why not?

"I know. I think that last one I should've had," he said. "I knew it was coming. I knew he was going to run a slant but I don't want to cheat anything."

Fogg, like Darby, fully intends to do it the hard way. Both understood that as they prepared for this chance as street free agents. Fogg is even tackling in run support like a linebacker. It's all part of the fun.

"I think I just have that personality," he said. "I just want to see everybody happy. Of course, this is a business and you can't make everybody happy, but I think with the personality I have I just want to be happy. I just want to have fun and enjoy it."


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