Steelers begin revamping secondary, take cornerback Golson

Mississippi defensive back Senquez Golson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Mississippi defensive back Senquez Golson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A couple more inches on his 5-foot-9 frame and Senquez Golson probably would have been long gone by the time the Pittsburgh Steelers were on the clock Friday night. A couple more big plays and Sammie Coates could have said the same.

Defensive backs with a habit of finding their way to the football like Golson have a way of rocketing up draft boards and enjoying nice long careers. So do wide receivers like Coates who are a threat to reach the end zone every time they touch the ball.

The number on a ruler didn’t scare away the Steelers from taking Golson in the second round of the NFL Draft. Neither did videotape of the talented but raw Coates dropping catchable balls. When Coates was available in the third round, Pittsburgh added him to a stable full of wide receivers who came to town relatively unheralded but helped quarterback Ben Roethlisberger treat the team’s offensive record books like a dry erase board in 2014.

Golson and Coates join linebacker Bud Dupree – the team’s first-round pick – as the most likely rookies to make an immediate impact for the defending AFC champions next fall. There will be job opportunities aplenty in the secondary and at outside linebacker while Coates gets to learn from All-Pro Antonio Brown – a former sixth-round pick – and Martavis Bryant, a third-round pick a year ago who had eight touchdown receptions despite sitting out the season’s first six games.

“You put the ball in his hands, he’s going to make some yards,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said of Coates. “Put those pads down, he’s going to make some tough yards.”

Coates at least has the luxury of being brought along somewhat slowly. That won’t be the case for Golson, who tied a single-season school record with 10 interceptions and was named a first-team All-American. Not bad for a player who pondered playing major league baseball coming out of high school and spent his college career trying to cover an unending stream of game-breaking wide receivers in the SEC.

“He’s not one of the bigger corners but what I really like, what I measure DBs on is how tough they are,” Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake said. “They have to check that box for me and I think he’ll do that.”

Golson will have to if the Steelers want to cushion the blow left by the retirements of safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor and Brice McCain’s departure for Miami in free agency. Dupree finds himself in a similar spot at linebacker, where the Steelers hope his edge rush skills will help offset the loss of Jason Worilds, who retired in March a week after his 27th birthday.

“This opportunity I have right now,” Dupree said after being introduced. “I believe this is the right place for me.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Golson, who turned down a lucrative offer from the Boston Red Sox to stick to football. He even flew to Boston as a high schooler to meet with Red Sox officials but left without signing a contract.

“I looked down at the paper, there was a million dollars on it,” Golson said. “It was hard to turn down. But football is what I love do to. Football is in my heart.”

And it’s also in his future.

Lake praised Golson’s versatility. Golson will likely work in the slot in nickel and dime packages as he transitions to the NFL. William Gay and Cortez Allen figure to be at the top of the depth chart when training camp opens, with Antwon Blake the most likely candidate to start in the slot. Given Golson’s instincts- his 10 picks were one less than the Steelers managed as a team last season – he’ll be given every chance to show what he can do.

In a division that includes Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green among others, Lake expects Golson to be targeted often. It’s part of the league’s very public initiation process.

“He’s going to be challenged, just like they challenge all of our defensive backs,” Lake said. “If you’re 6-2 they’re still going to throw at you. If you’re 5-8 they’re going to throw at you. He’s going to have to prove himself.”

Pittsburgh’s defense struggled at times last season. The Steelers finished 18th in yards and points allowed and managed just 10 interceptions as a team. They won the division anyway but have made restoring some aggressiveness a priority during a vital offseason.

“With us getting Bud yesterday putting pressure on the quarterback and now we’ve got a ball hawk corner,” Lake said. “It’s going to work out pretty well.”

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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