Secondary still has question marks

The big question mark heading into training camp last year for the Steelers was the team's secondary. Deshea Townsend was heading into his first full season as a starter opposite veteran Chad Scott, while strong safety Troy Polamalu and free safety Chris Hope were first-time starters.

For most of the 2004 season, that secondary was a strength. Townsend and Hope played solidly, while Polamalu was good enough to earn Pro Bowl honors. Even Scott played better than expected before suffering a knee injury in Week 6 at Dallas. His replacement, veteran Willie Williams, also surprised.

But as the team enters training camp this season, there are still plenty of questions about the secondary.

Scott was released during the offseason as a cost-cutting measure, while Williams signed a new two-year deal with the team. But he'll be pushed hard for the starting spot by a pair of youngsters, Ricardo Colclough and Bryant McFadden, the team's second-round picks in each of the past two drafts.

Also in the mix, at least for the third corner spot, is Ike Taylor, who enters his third training camp with the team needing to prove he's anything more than a guy who runs fast.

At the safety position, veteran Mike Logan returns after missing most of last season. The Steelers like his leadership, but he must prove that he can hold up after suffering through injuries the past three seasons.

Polamalu and Hope, meanwhile, have to put the memories of being torched in the AFC Championship Game behind them. Both were victimized by New England's Tom Brady in that game and the Steelers hope they learned their lesson.

Townsend also missed a good portion of the offseason workouts after having surgery to repair a sports hernia injury. But in the long term, that could be something that helps the team.

With Townsend out or playing free safety with the third team just to stay active, McFadden, Colclough and Taylor got plenty of work during the team's offseason program.

Williams and Townsend will enter training camp as the team's starting corners, but don't be surprised if the 34-year-old Williams gives way at some point to either McFadden or Colclough.

McFadden may have to scale back his physical style just a bit as he's prone to some clutching and grabbing, but the team likes the way he's willing to stick his nose in the middle of the action. He also showed solid coverage skills during camp once he began to figure things out.

Colclough, meanwhile, played well as the team's third corner last season. He didn't stand out at any time, but for a corner, that can also be a good thing, as opposing teams were never able to pick on the rookie.

Taylor has talent, but sometimes loses focus. When he keeps his head in the game, he shows the ability to be a pretty good corner. But those times when he seems to zone out are the things that will keep him off the field unless fixed. Taylor has played well as a special teamer.

Veterans Chidi Iwumoa and Vontez Duff will have a difficult time making the roster this year, though Iwumoa remains a favorite of head coach Bill Cowher because of his toughness as a special teams player.

Polamalu was everything the Steelers thought he'd be when they traded up in the first round of the 2003 draft to acquire him. In fact, not only was Polamalu excellent playing up in the box, he also showed good coverage ability, something that was supposed to be his downfall. The scary thing is that he's still going to get better.

Hope was also strong against the run in 2004, but needs to be a little more of a ball hawk after collecting just one interception. He'll be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season and could be playing for a contract.

Veteran Tyone Carter was signed when Logan was injured last season and gives the team another backup safety with starting experience. Carter is on the small size, though, and could be pushed if Logan shows he's sound and another of the team's young safeties plays well.

Russell Stuvaints has stuck with the team for the better part of two seasons but will have to beat out Carter to earn a roster spot this season. Janssen Patten, who was released by the team last year in training camp, was brought back, but faces even longer odds.


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