If there was an NFL award given to individual position coaches, Ryan Clark has no doubt who should be the recipient of the secondary coach of the year, none other than his own coach, Carnell Lake.
Lake, in his second season coaching the Steelers’ defense backs, has guided the unit to be the number one pass defense in the NFL for the second year in a row.
“I told him he is the defensive backs coach of the year this year,” said Clark. “When you think about the different people and lineup combinations he has had to use this year and us to finish No. 1 in pass defense is a huge accomplishment not only for us, but for Coach Lake.”
The Steelers were without safety Troy Polamalu for nine games this season, while Ike Taylor missed the final five games of the year with an ankle injury. Cortez Allen started for Taylor and continued to grow, but he too was sidelined for a game while Taylor was out, and Josh Victorian, who spent most of the season on the practice squad, started against the Cowboys.
Through it all, though, the secondary was consistent allowing just 185.2 yards per game, and the players give much of that credit to Lake.
“He is an intelligent guy,” said safety Will Allen. “Just his wisdom of the game and how he approaches it, his mentality, he is a tough guy. It’s crazy because if you didn’t know him, he hardly says anything about playing. He is a competitor. He exudes that throughout the room.
“He prepares each player for what is to come. He prepares the group very well. He believes a lot in technique. He doesn’t necessarily harp on the schematics on defense. He is more about technique. That helps us tremendously. If you look at the technique of the cornerback play the last 3-4 years alone, you can see how the level has been tremendous, even the safety play. He talked to us more about tackling and covering, attention to details, and eyes. He stresses on it and harps on it. I think that has helped us become the best in the league for two straight seasons.”
While the secondary would like to have been more opportunistic this year as far as turnovers, they have a lot of pride in being the top ranked passing defense for the second year, especially after they were ranked 12th against the pass in 2010, the year before Lake’s arrival. What Lake did upon taking over was not overhaul the secondary, but instead he works with everyone’s strengths, while bringing his understanding and style having played both cornerback and safety for the Steelers.
“He played old-school, hard-nosed hitting football,” said Taylor. “He understands. He didn’t force anything on us. He didn’t say I am the coach and this is how it will be. He asked how we did things, and then told us how they did things. If it worked the way we did it, he will let us go with it, but if it doesn’t work he will step in and tell us this is how we are doing it. When he has to put his foot down and say we are doing it this way, we are cool with it and go with what Coach Lake says. He understands us and we understand him.”
Clark credits Lake with the development of the team’s young corners, including Keenan Lewis who had a breakout season in his first year as a starter, as well as Allen and Curtis Brown.
“Looking at those guys, that is a lot of Carnell Lake’s influence,” said Clark. “If those guys don’t play well for us this year we don’t finish where we finish. Also he allows us to be individuals, allows us to play to our strengths. He implements the program and then he listens. He is the type of coach that will say how do you guys see it?
“When you have a coach you already respect because you know he played the game at a high level, but he also respects you, when you get that kind of camaraderie in the room it’s contagious.”
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