View Full Version : Steelers might turn corner with younger secondary

04-21-2012, 02:19 PM
Steelers might turn corner with younger secondary

By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer dlolley@observer-reporter.com
April 21, 2012

The Steelers led the NFL in pass defense last year for the second time in three seasons, limiting opponents to 172 yards per game.

But the secondary was exposed in a playoff loss at Denver, allowing numerous big plays, including an 80-yard touchdown pass on the opening play from scrimmage in overtime that ended Pittsburgh's season.

With that in mind, many expect the Steelers will be looking for help in the secondary during the NFL draft, which will be held April 26-28.

The Steelers hold 10 picks, including the 24th selection of the first round.

Even with the loss of starting cornerback William Gay as a free agent and the release of former starter Bryant McFadden, the Steelers feel good about what they have in the secondary.

Cornerback Ike Taylor is coming off one of his strongest seasons, and veteran Keenan Lewis stepped in as the third cornerback last season and performed admirably. The Steelers also are excited about the potential of Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, a pair of rookies in 2011.

The team also is solid at safety with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark both coming off Pro Bowl seasons and a pair of veterans in Ryan Mundy and Will Allen as backups.

However, the age of the players in the secondary could be a concern. Clark is 32, and Taylor and Polamalu each are 31. (And when the last time we got a full year play from Troy? Given the way Troy plays and his concussion history he won't be playing much longer. I think we need to draft a top safety or corner back especially since hands of stone Taylor can't catch (intercept) a cold. - mesa)

Because of that, adding youth to the secondary will be a priority in the draft, particularly in the later rounds.

At cornerback, LSU's Morris Claiborne is the clear-cut top pick and will likely be one of the first five or six players selected. South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore should be the next cornerback selected, slipping in ahead of Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, who didn't help his draft stock by getting arrested for marijuana possession earlier this year.

But the player who is the biggest wildcard among the cornerbacks in this draft is North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins, who began his career at Florida but transferred after being arrested several times, including twice for marijuana possession.

"(As far as) talent, top 10 to 15," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper via conference call. "If he had no red flags, he would be in the top 15, at worst the top 20, probably top 17, because Cincinnati is picking 17 and needs a corner. He could still be in the mix. The Lions need a corner desperately at 23.

"Or he could get into the second round very easily. I have him going to Carolina, picked 40th. Could he be a first? Yeah, but if that does push him down, it'll be for that reason."

Among safeties, Alabama's Mark Barron is likely the only player at the position who will be selected in the first round.

In later rounds, the Steelers could take a look at Wayne State's Jeremy Jones, West Virginia's Keith Tandy, or Coastal Carolina's Josh Norman.

Jones (5-10, 197) played free safety at Wayne State, setting records with 406 return yards on his 17 career interceptions. He also showed some ability to blitz, finishing with 8 1/2 career sacks.

Tandy (5-10, 202) also is more of a safety prospect, though he started his final two seasons for the Mountaineers at cornerback. A strong tackler, Tandy showed good ball skills throughout his career, recording 10 in his final two seasons.

Norman (6-0, 190) intercepted eight passes as a sophomore. Teams spent the next two years trying to avoid Norman's area. Solid in run support, Norman fits what the Steelers like in their cornerbacks as he led team in tackles with 62 as a senior.

Odds and end zones

Friday was the final day for teams to make offers to restricted free agents, meaning wide receiver Mike Wallace has no option but to return to the Steelers in 2012. ... Former Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon visited the Baltimore Ravens Thursday but was not signed to a contract. The Ravens instead signed Curtis Painter, who started last season for Indianapolis in place of injured Peyton Manning.

http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/...efensive-backs (http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/sports11/04-21-2012-NFL-draft-defensive-backs)

04-21-2012, 02:30 PM
I would like to see them try and add a Deshea Townsend type of player in the middle rounds. Gay was an attempt at it (i.e. getting a productive, play-making guy from a good school, who was pushed down the draft board due to lack of speed). Ronde Barber is another example, Javier Arenas, etc.

I think those guys tend to fit our needs (guys who can make plays--INTs), more than the other type of DB you'll tend to get in the lower rounds (the Ike Taylors, Cortez Allens, Curtis Brown... guys who have lots of athleticism, but can't make plays on the ball as well).

04-21-2012, 03:18 PM
Stephen Gilmore anyone?;)

If there is no J-Martin or Glenn and if Gilmore is available at 1.24, i hope Steelers draft him.

04-21-2012, 03:23 PM
Well, it probably won't be Alfonso Dennard.


Dee Dub
04-21-2012, 03:48 PM
Coty Sensabaugh's combine numbers are very similar to Stephon Gilmore's. Not too mention, pretty much the same numbers on the field. Watch his tape and you see a solid back peddle, good hips, and very solid turn and go. I think this kid very well could be a diamond in the rough.


04-21-2012, 04:24 PM
Adding a young player and one getting permission to actually play are big differences.

04-21-2012, 06:38 PM
Any warm body can play 10 yards off the ball on 3rd and 6.

The scheme/duties of the CBs needs changed more than who's back there.

Dee Dub
04-21-2012, 06:46 PM
Any warm body can play 10 yards off the ball on 3rd and 6.

The scheme/duties of the CBs needs changed more than who's back there.

Disagree. It's the players (the corners and the FS). This same scheme was used when they had Woodson, Lake, and Perry and it dominaited.

If you dont have a Fs who can cover (and the Steelers dont), and you use the other safety at or near the box/LOS more than 50% of the time then you are going to have to play your corners off and drop your backers more often than you would like.

04-21-2012, 09:24 PM
Disagree. It's the players (the corners and the FS). This same scheme was used when they had Woodson, Lake, and Perry and it dominaited.

Yeah, they had great cover corners in 1994, they were named Lloyd and Greene.

In 1995 the defense stunk when Greene started slow because he broke his thumb and Lloyd wasn't sacking QBs either.

If teams are patient enough? You can nickel and dime this defense to death, hell it was LeBeau's Bengals team in 2001 who started it.

04-21-2012, 10:03 PM
[/COLOR]Yeah, they had great cover corners in 1994, they were named Lloyd and Greene.

In 1995 the defense stunk when Greene started slow because he broke his thumb and Lloyd wasn't sacking QBs either.

If teams are patient enough? You can nickel and dime this defense to death, hell it was LeBeau's Bengals team in 2001 who started it.

100% right.

Even when our D has been what we'd all consider very good, efficient teams (i.e. Raiders w/Gannon, Brady*, Manning, Rodgers) have been able to pick us apart. It's the nature of the beast so to speak, in Lebeau's scheme--keep everything in front, eventually they'll make a mistake or we'll make a play.

With regard to the "we'll make a play" theme, that's why our D wasn't up to snuff this year. Nobody could make a play. Part of that reason is the lack of speed. That's why I prefer a guy like Kendricks over Hightower.

04-24-2012, 02:59 AM
Ready to battle for corner spot

Teresa Varley

The minute unrestricted free agent Will Gay signed with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, Keenan Lewis set his sights set on one thing and one thing only – winning Gay’s vacated starting left cornerback spot in the Steelers secondary.

“I just have to step up,” said Lewis. “I have to do what I have been doing. I have to improve what I did last year. Instead of just coming in on third down, I want to be out there on first, second and third down. I am really excited for the opportunity and I know it’s going to go the right way.”

Lewis is hard at work training in an effort to attain that goal, taking part in voluntary workouts at the team’s practice facility on a regular basis to ensure he is in the best shape possible to face the challenge of fighting for a starting spot.

“I have been working on my conditioning, just getting ready for the opportunity to go 60 minutes on the field,” said Lewis. “I want to be in shape, in top-notch shape so when I get to camp I am ready to get going, off and running.”

Lewis, who is entering his fourth season, saw the most extensive playing time of his career last year playing in all 16 games and making his first career start against Indianapolis in the nickel package.

“It helped a lot getting a feel for wide receivers and what quarterbacks are thinking,” said Lewis. “It helps you with your maturity level and learning the game more. It helps being out there on the field because you see more things. Instead of watching it on tape or in practice only, you see different receivers, what offensive coordinators do to try and beat defenses and you become more familiar with that.

“Now I am a step ahead and excited for the upcomoing season.”

Lewis will have some competition for the job, with second-year cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown both expected to be in the mix as well.

“I just need to keep doing what I do,” said Lewis. “I just have to get better. I am going to take whatever they have for me and embrace it and get better at that. I know right now it’s my time. I have to get better and better every day. I work hard and I know God will reward me for my hard work.

“Those two young guys are good guys who have a lot of potential and skills, so I know it’s going to be a battle. I am just trying to be one of the top ones in the bunch.”

Brown played in 12 games as a rookie, seeing action only on special teams. Allen played in 15 games, on special teams and in defensive packages, gaining valuable experience as a rookie that he hopes plays in his favor in the battle for the starting position.

“That was the goal last year, the goal this year, and the goal always to be a starter and contribute wherever coach (D!ck) LeBeau and defensive staff feel I am best at,” said Allen. “I am going in there to give my best and everything else should fall into place.

“The playing time I got last year helps a lot because I got a chance to get in-game experience and see what it’s like to be in that arena not just on special teams but on defense. Gaining a little bit of confidence from your teammates is always a plus too because they have seen me out there and know what I can do. They have confidence in me as well as the coaching staff. That helped a lot as far as the mental and physical standpoint, just getting a feel for the game. I am just looking to improve on that this year.”

Despite being young, and not having the starting experience at this high of a level playing collegiately at The Citadel, Allen is confident he can handle the responsibility that comes with playing cornerback in the NFL.

“That is why I do it,” said Allen. “I love the position. It’s a position that carries a lot of pressure, a lot of weight on your shoulders. It’s very competitive. I love the competitiveness of it. I am in here, focused and ready to learn from as many people as I can so I can contribute as best as I can. I think I am making progress mentally and working on the physical part of it now.”


04-24-2012, 04:29 PM
On the spot: Steelers CB Keenan Lewis

By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
April 24, 2012

We're continuing our series in which we feature one player from each AFC North team who is "On the spot" leading up to the NFL draft. That's a player who is holding a starting job now, but could lose it depending on how his team drafts.

Who he's replacing: William Gay, an unrestricted free agent who signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Last season, Gay started 15 games for the Steelers and finished the regular season with 56 tackles -- 45 solo -- with two interceptions.

NFL résumé: Lewis was a 2009 third-round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Oregon State, and has made only one career NFL start. Last year, he showed that he can be a playmaker, sealing a 13-9 victory at Kansas City with a leaping interception with 28 seconds remaining. But he has also been undisciplined, getting benched by coach Mike Tomlin in the 2010 preseason after he gave up an eight-yard catch to Brandon Lloyd and then proceeded to knee him.

Analysis from Matt Williamson, of Scouts Inc.: The Steelers have a formula at cornerback. They draft them in the mid rounds (as they did a year ago and with Ike Taylor) and allow them to make their bones on special teams while learning the "Steeler Way." I doubt that trend changes in this draft class. Losing Gay does open up a spot for someone to step up, but that could be Lewis or one of the mid-round picks from a year ago. I am betting that Pittsburgh uses yet another third or fourth round pick on the position with the exact same strategy in mind.