A look at the secondary

A look at the secondary

It's not a complete makeover, but the Steelers certainly did a Bob Villa-like fixer-upper job on their secondary heading into the 2004 season. <br><br> With training camp set to open July 30, the Steelers currently have three new starters at the four secondary positions from a year ago. And the only reason Chad Scott, the only returning starter, still has a spot with the team is because it would cost the Steelers too much money to release him.

So Steelers fans will be subjected to one more season of Scott being picked on by opposing offenses and reporters will be exposed to Scott's immature attitude in the locker room. Believe me, nobody is too happy about that.

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, however, remains in Scott's corner for now, hoping he can coax one decent season out him. To do that, new defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will have to convince Scott to cease his gambling style of play and instead play a more team-oriented defensive style.

On the other side, Deshea Townsend enters training camp for the first time as a starter. Townsend took over for Dewayne Washington part way through the 2003 season and played well, picking off three passes and leading the team with 12 passes defended. Of course the fact that 12 passes defended led the team shows why the secondary needed a makeover to begin with.

Townsend is a little smaller than the Steelers like their starting corners, but they need his coverage skills.

Second-round pick Ricardo Colclough will push Ike Taylor for the third cornerback spot and both are expected to be breathing down the necks of Scott and Townsend next season.

It's been a while since the Steelers had two young, exciting corners like Colclough and Taylor, who are both rangy, speedy, coverage types.

Taylor, who had played corner for just one season in college, made great strides last season and has been a constant at the team's training facility throughout the offseason. Taylor, a fourth-round pick, is going to end up being the steal of the 2003 draft.

Colclough, meanwhile, picked off 15 passes in just two seasons at tiny Tusculum College. He's a small-college prospect and will probably take some time to get acclimated to the NFL. But he was also the South's defensive MVP in the Senior Bowl, so he's likely up to the task.

At 5-8 and 184 pounds Chidi Iwuoma is one of the smallest players on the Steelers roster. He's also one of the toughest. Because of his size, Iwuoma is unlikely to ever see any significant playing time, but he's a special teams demon who will have a roster spot as long as his body can hold up to the pounding of covering kickoffs and punts.

The Steelers signed a pair of veterans during the offseason to help upgrade their depth at cornerback in Terry Fair and Willie Williams.

Fair, a former No. 1 pick of Detroit - who else? - didn't play in 2003 because of a foot problem. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career and was unimpressive at minicamp. His game when he came into the league was built around his speed and it looks as if the multiple injuries he's suffered during his career have robbed him of that asset.

Williams, a former Steelers draft pick who started for the team in Super Bowl XXX, spent the past seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He has started 104 career games, including 30 with the Steelers, but that's not why he was signed. Early in his career, Williams was a standout special teams player and the Steelers are going to need a veteran presence on their special teams units.

The Steelers brought back Nashville Dyer again this year after releasing him at the end of training camp last season. Dyer showed some skills in camp last season but got caught up in a numbers game. That's likely to happen again this year.

The reason the Steelers are looking for special teams bodies is because Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope are moving into the starting lineup at strong and free safety, respectively.

At 5-10, Polamalu, the team's top pick last season, is undersized for a strong safety, but may very well be the fastest player in the league at his position. After looking lost throughout camp last season, Polamalu will be much more at ease this year and should shine.

Hope, meanwhile, has been waiting his turn to move into the starting lineup. A big hitter, Hope will give the Steelers a physical presence at free safety they didn't have with former starter Brent Alexander, who was released.

Hope needs to have a strong camp since the Steelers also re-signed veteran Mike Logan, their starter at strong safety last season. Logan can play on either side and could step right in if Hope falters.

Russell Stuvaints, who like Logan is a McKeesport native, made the practice squad coming out of training camp last season and was put on the active roster later in the season. A college linebacker, Stuvaints has made the transition to safety and excelled on special teams late in the year last season.

Also brought back after a stint elsewhere was Ainsley Battles, who made the Steelers' roster in 2000 as an undrafted rookie, starting two games that season. Battles spent two seasons in Jacksonville, but sat out last season after walking out of Buffalo's training camp. But he'll have a shot to win a roster spot with the Steelers if he can beat out Stuvaints as a special teamer.

In the same boat is veteran Shane Walton, who was released by St. Louis, where he had been a fifth-round draft pick last season. Walton was a playmaking corner at Notre Dame, but lacks the speed to play the position in the NFL. He'll need to show he can hold up physically as a safety.

Rookie Janssen Patton will face the same challenge. Patton picked off 18 passes in his career at Bowling Green, but is too slow to play corner at the next level.

Yaacov Yisrael missed the entire 2002 season at Penn State with a torn ACL in his left knee, but rebounded in 2003 and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection. A natural strong safety, Yisrael, like the other youngsters in the secondary, will face the numbers crunch when the cut downs start.

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