Another in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers roster in advance of the start of free agency on March 10:*
(Free Agent Scorecard: 1 unrestricted – Will Allen)
He played in all 16 games, with four starts, all of which came in games Troy Polamalu missed due to injury. In those four starts, and the parts of the two other games Allen played safety in which Polamalu was injured, he produced 30 tackles but no interceptions or passes defensed. He did force one fumble and had one quarterback pressure. There were six safeties on the season-ending 53-man roster, and based on how the coaching staff was using the safeties, Allen was No. 3, behind starters Mike Mitchell and Polamalu.
In camp with the Steelers last summer, Dangerfield stood out with three special teams tackles during the preseason. He does not shy away from the physical demands of the position, and he is a willing contributor on special teams. Does he have the coverage skills that the position demands on the NFL level? He'll get another chance to show whether he does this summer in Latrobe.
Photos of the 2014 Safeties.
A versatile college safety at Arizona State, Darby spent some time with the San Diego Chargers before ultimately signing a futures contract with the Steelers. He's another guy who will get thrown into the mix during the offseason, and depending upon his showing there and how the Steelers approach his position in the draft, he may or may not still be around come training camp.
A special teams captain in 2014, Golden made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2012, and in 47 career games with the team he has only six tackles on defense and one pass defensed. That emphasizes where the Steelers see Golden's value, and in 2014 he was third on the team with 10 special teams tackles and added a forced fumble. There are places on every team's roster for guys who make significant contributions on special teams, and if Golden keeps doing that for the Steelers they will continue to find a place for him.
After finishing his college career at Michigan State with 227 tackles, eight interceptions, and 26 passes defensed, Lewis (5-foot-10, 211 pounds) signed as an undrafted rookie with the Bengals. He spent some time on the Cincinnati practice squad before signing a futures contract with the Steelers. With a definite need in the secondary, the Steelers' offseason roster currently contains 16 defensive backs. As one of those 16, Lewis will be in a situation similar to Alden Darby: the first step is showing enough in minicamp and OTAs to merit a spot on the 90-man roster the team takes to Latrobe.
A significant signing during last year's free-agency period, Mitchell was seen as the kind of playmaking safety the Steelers' secondary needed. In 2013, his final season with the Carolina Panthers, Mitchell had 3.5 sacks and four interceptions, but he wasn't able to duplicate that level of production with the Steelers. Fans screamed bloody murder, but Coach Mike Tomlin said, "I liked his performance over the course of the season. I thought as the season wore on he got better and particularly over the course of the last month. I was excited about the trajectory of his performance, and I am (excited) moving forward." When the secondary is re-made over the course of this offseason, Mitchell will be expected to be a significant contributor to it in 2015.
He will go down as one of the great Steelers of all time, and beyond that there really is no need to detail everything he contributed during his 12 seasons here. Last summer, Polamalu invited Shamarko Thomas to train with him in California, and at the time it was seen as something of a passing of the torch. Over the course of his 173 career NFL games (playoffs included) Polamalu played every minute of every one at 100 miles per hour, and the toll on his body has become evident. What the 2014 season showed was that the ground he used to cover he cannot anymore, and the plays he used to make he doesn't anymore. At the end of this past season, Polamalu indicated that he realized his football mortality is at hand, but sometimes offseasons have a way of changing a player's mind. If indeed that time has come, the Steelers would rather he retire than have to cut him.
He can be placed in the same category along with Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones and Cortez Allen. They all are young players on defense in which much has been invested but little has been reaped so far, and they all are players who will have to contribute significantly in 2015 for the Steelers to have any chance to go beyond the AFC North title they won this past season. Injuries have set him back significantly at times, with one of the worst cases of bad timing being last November when Thomas was unable to play because of hamstring injuries during the same period when Troy Polamalu was out with a sprained knee. He has played in 25 games and started two, and the thing that an optimist would cling to is the "find the ball and get the guy on the ground" ability Thomas has displayed on special teams.
He is a guy who always seems to find himself on the short end of things when rosters get cut at the end of the preseason, because what he does best isn't really a part of the training camp process. Ventrone has to make his living tackling punt returners and kickoff returners, and that's not ever done live during a training camp. The preseason games may offer some opportunities, but come roster cut-down time the better position player often gets the nod. Then a team gets into the regular season and finds it really needs somebody who can tackle punt returners and kickoff returners. On the practice squad for five games and inactive for two more, Ventrone finished with seven special teams tackles in the nine he played. That has value, too, and Ventrone will bring that once again this summer to Latrobe.
After completing his college eligibility at Mercyhurst, Wild went to Canada, where he played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2013-14. During his time there, he had 142 tackles and four sacks, and while the Blue Bombers listed him as a linebacker, Wild (6-foot, 208 pounds) will have to transition to safety in the NFL. Can he show enough in one offseason to get himself to training camp?