For a lot of people, the start of the 2016 NFL season commences with the start of training camp. In reality, the NFL season begins now, for NFL GM’s, Head Coaches and their staffs. Training camp is just where the process begins, for putting together the talent that has been provided to the coaching staff. In a little more than a week, GM’s, coaches, and scouts will descend upon Indianapolis, Indiana for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, to get an up close look at the top prospects in college football. These prospects will be poked, prodded, and tested, both physically and mentally, as they look to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NFL. Draft stocks will rise and fall based on their performance in multiple drills and interviews at the combine, despite what each of these players has put on tape throughout their college careers. This is where Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and staff start earning their money, in determining who the real NFL caliber players are from those who are combine workout warriors.
The Steelers head into this offseason with their most critical needs being on defense, along the line and in the secondary, and with the 25th pick in the draft, most are of the opinion that they need to address the secondary with that selection. The Steelers standard operating procedure is to select the best player available, but with them already being labeled as a favorite to win the Super Bowl next season, look for them to address a primary need at cornerback with their first pick. With anywhere from four to six corners expected to go in the first round, the Steelers should be able to get the talent needed to stabilize the secondary. Unless the Steelers are willing to trade up, there is little likelihood that they are able to get a Jalen Ramsey or an Eli Apple, but chances are that someone like Kendall Fuller or Xavien Howard could be there waiting for them at the 25th spot. However it shakes out, the Steelers need to go into the regular season with starting caliber cornerbacks. Antwon Blake, the poster child for the Steelers problems in the secondary, is okay as a number four, but not as a number two corner.
The Steelers could also use help at Safety, especially if they decide to part ways with Will Allen. Shamarko Thomas could very well be getting his last shot at being Mike Mitchell’s partner in crime after failing to take ownership of the spot coming out of last year’s training camp. There are internal options available, and they may decide to switch Doran Grant to safety, which wouldn’t be a bad decision at all. Still, the Steelers should be looking closely at that position during the combine, as there will be a number of them who would fit nicely. There are two in particular that the Steelers should keep an eye on, Darian Thompson from Boise State, and Miles Killebrew from Southern Utah.
Miles Killebrew, 6’1″ – 219 lbs, from Southern Utah has drawn attention with his hard hitting, but he is also solid in coverage. In 2014, he had four interceptions, returning one for a score, and broke up seven passes this past season. Killebrew also fits the Steelers mold for a run stuffing safety. The other safety that would look good in Black and Gold, is Darian Thompson from Boise State. Thompson has the hands of a wide receiver and plays with the physical nature that the Steelers love, but will have to improve on his technique and discipline. Carnell Lake should be able to mold this kid’s skill set together, which would make him an excellent addition to the secondary.
With the return of last year’s second round pick, Senquez Golson, from injury, the Steelers could totally change the look of the secondary with a couple of solid draft picks, especially if they can resign Brandon Boykin. While they could use some more help at defensive tackle, better talent in the secondary is a must. The NFL Scouting Combine is where it all starts, where Kevin Colbert and Co. need to focus on shoring up the pass defense with some playmakers. After coming off of a season where the Steelers accomplished so much with so little, due to injuries, they need to capitalize and build upon on that success. Simply taking the best player available in the draft just won’t cut it this year, it is time to focus on the problem areas so that the offense doesn’t have to carry this team. If Kevin Colbert can pair up the offense with a defense that can get them the ball back quickly, the Steelers will be the team to beat in 2016.