By Kris Lancaster
August 16, 2015
Years ago, Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount described his physical playing style which forced the NFL to change the way defenses played the game by saying, “I always wanted to let people know that this is my area. You come in here, you’re going to have to pay.”
Current Steelers’ cornerback Antwon Blake certainly is no Mel Blount, but it’s safe to assume that he goes by the same notion Blount did in his playing days. Case in point last Sunday in the Hall of Fame game against the Vikings, when Minnesota receiver and former Steeler Mike Wallace tried to block Blake on a running play. Blake threw his shoulder into Wallace, knocking him over, before tackling the running back for a minimal gain.
“On defense you have to be that way, especially in a Steelers defense,” Blake said. “Especially at corner. Everyone can cover but not everyone is willing to tackle. I just take pride in that.”
Blake has shown that he is not only the most physical corner the Steelers have, but he’s one of the more physical players on the entire defense. While it might be a point of pride for Blake, it also comes from having a chip on his shoulder after travelling a long road to get to where he is now.
“Being undrafted, I’ve seen a lot of guys get drafted ahead of me that are not even in the league anymore,” Blake said. “It definitely adds a chip element to my game.”
Blake came into the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent from Texas at El Paso. After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers opponent Friday night, Blake was one of just four rookies to play in all 16 games for the Jaguars that season, becoming the Jaguars top special teams player with 13 tackles that year.
After being waived by the Jaguars at the end of training camp in 2013, Blake was signed by the Steelers to play primarily special teams, finishing with 11 tackles that year.
Blake said that the initial feeling of being released by the Jaguars right before the season started in 2013 was tough to deal with, but it couldn’t have ended up any better for him.
“I was a little shocked, but you never know what can happen to you in a given situation,” Blake said. “Fortunately, I came to a great organization, and it’s been working out well for me ever since.”
Since his signing, Blake had developed from a special teams ace to one of the team’s most reliable cornerbacks. In 2014, injuries to the secondary gave Blake the first extensive playing time of his career. He would respond by finishing the year with 36 tackles and his first career interception in a 51-34 win over the Colts in Week 8.
Blake also was third on the team with seven passes defensed, along with helping the Steelers secure the division title by forcing a fumble and then recovering the ball in the late moments of the Steelers’ 27-17 win over the Bengals in the season finale.
So far in training camp, Blake has been used primarily as a nickel corner alongside William Gay and Cortez Allen. The acquisition of Brandon Boykin from the Eagles could take some playing time away from Blake, but it isn’t something that will worry Blake. For him, it’s about having his hard translate from practice to the games, and having his team know they can rely on him when called upon.
“It’s all about gaining the trust of your coaches and your teammates,” Blake said. “Just having that confidence to perform out on the field. Everyone does well in drills, but you have to put it all together on the field. I feel like I’ve been doing that.”