View Full Version : Steelers rookie CBs Burnett and Lewis add different dimensions to the secondary

Galax Steeler
08-18-2009, 03:30 AM
Keenan Lewis is unlike most rookies. He does not think it's hot at Saint Vincent College, even though the heat index on the field Sunday was 98, and he is not shy about stating what he thinks is a realistic goal this season.

"I'm going to the Super Bowl," said Lewis, a cornerback from Oregon State who was drafted in the third round. "I'll find anyway I can, even if it's on special teams. That's my goal -- to help this team get back to the Super Bowl. Whatever I can do to enhance the situation, I'm going to do."

Lewis is one of two hot-shot rookie cornerbacks in training camp, along with fifth-round pick Joe Burnett of Central Florida, and they are as different in style as Cate Blanchett and Kim Kardashian.

Lewis (6-1, 208) is a bigger, more physical cornerback who the Steelers would like to use to bump bigger, taller receivers at the line of scrimmage -- something they discovered playing against Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the Super Bowl.

Burnett (5-10, 192) is smaller and more athletic, a defensive playmaker who the Steelers think can be something of an Antwaan Randle El -- a situational player who can also return kicks.

But they share one common fiber in training camp: They have caught the attention of their defensive coaches with the way they play.

"Anatomically speaking, they're different," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "But they're both quality corners. Both have been very impressive in balls drills and passing drills and being able to relate to the ball in the air and make some plays with the ball in the air.

"That has been the single-most pleasing factor -- they don't tense up with the ball in the air and they both make plays on the ball."

LeBeau said that is the first thing he looks for in a good cornerback.

"They have to be able to relax and play against people who make their living catching the football," said LeBeau, a former cornerback who ranks seventh in NFL history with 62 career interceptions. "We like to get it, but, first and foremost, we don't want the other guy to get it."

Since the NFL draft was reduced from 12 rounds after 1992, the Steelers have taken two cornerbacks in the same draft only twice -- in 1993, when they selected Deon Figures in the first round and Willie Williams in the sixth; and in 1998 when Deshea Townsend was picked fourth and Jason Simmons was drafted fifth.

In each instance, both cornerbacks made the team.

The same could happen again this year.

The Steelers have one opening at cornerback because starter Bryant McFadden signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. And Townsend, who has been relegated to being the nickel back, enters his 12th NFL season and will be 34 when the regular season begins Sept. 10.

Lewis and Burnett have done nothing to diminish their chances.

"They are right where they should be, right where we expected them to be," said secondary coach Ray Horton. "We couldn't be more pleased with them."

Lewis went to Oregon State as a 157-pound cornerback from O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans -- the same high school as rookie receiver Mike Wallace -- but added 50 pounds of muscle over his college career to blossom into a more physical player. When the Steelers drafted him with the 96th overall pick in the draft, Horton said Lewis' style would come in handy when playing against teams that have two physical receivers, such as Arizona's Fitzgerald and Boldin.

"I welcome any type of challenge," Lewis said. "They didn't really tell me how to play; they're just trying to see what I can do. When it gets down into the season and we're facing different receiving corps, I'm pretty sure that's where they'll use me. Right now, I'm just trying to catch up with everything."

Burnett wasted little time making an impact. He had two interceptions on the second full day at practice at training camp, then intercepted a pass and returned it 42 yards to set up a touchdown in last week's preseason opener against the Cardinals. Along the way, he had the easy gait and manner of a player who knows how to run with the ball.

Burnett, though, has another avenue to make the team, and that is as a punt returner. He fumbled his first return after being hit following a 10-yard gain and then returned his second punt 13 yards. But, in college, Burnett returned five kicks for touchdowns -- three punts, two kickoffs -- in four seasons.

His coach, George O'Leary, said Burnett is the type of player who has a chance to do something when he gets the ball in his hands. That was evident against Arizona.

LeBeau said it's too early to know if both drafted cornerbacks, like they did in '93 and '98, can make the team.

But he added, "There's always room for the good ones."


El-Gonzo Jackson
08-18-2009, 10:40 AM
I was loving the Keenan Lewis selection and am now pretty impressed with seeing Burnett in action as a playmaker on defense.

No way that 3rd round pick Lewis gets cut and I think Burnett has made a case already that he should make the 53 man roster. Ratliff and Madison may be in a fight for the last roster spot.

08-18-2009, 11:18 AM
I honestly think we keep both of them. One replaces McFadden, one replaces Madison or Ratliff. Both of whom had better be praying for one of our special teams guys to go on injured reserve, because otherwise there's no way we need that many DBs.

08-18-2009, 02:36 PM
2 good draft selections for the future and what not.. and u have deshea on his last yr of his contract...

good to know we have 4 good corners

T Bradshaw
08-18-2009, 03:03 PM
Deshea is 34, last yr of contract

no brainer

08-18-2009, 03:34 PM
The fact that Deshea never HAD to move to safety is remarkable. I was calling for his head LAST contract thinking there was no way he'd still be able to contribute...

These kids look like they can both play, but can we get a little bit more data first?

Makes me feel old, though...I remember discussing Townsend in much this same fashion when HE was a rook out of Bama...sigh...

tony hipchest
08-18-2009, 04:33 PM
personally, i think ive seen enough. im used to seeing balls clank off or cb's hands or be thrown right to them, or luck out and have a lucky bounce or tip bounce into their lap for a pick. theres no dispute that our strong safety has the best hands on defense.

what i dont really remember seeing in a long time is our defender break on the ball, charge at it at full speed and snatch it out of the air like he owned it. finally a cb with a pair of hands :applaudit:

i dont care if it was against 2nd or 3rd stringers, that bunett int was a breath of fresh air.

i also saw lewis play live in his final college game (sun bowl vs pitt).

tv doesnt do justice to how putrid pitts passing game was that day. 5 completions in an entire 60 min? completely abysmal.

heres the thing.... r. colclough was a complete bust and b. mcfadden never really lived up to his 2nd round draft status. yet tomlin comes in, drafts gay in the 5th round (who was ranked as like the 25-30th cb in that draft) and in his 2nd year they cant keep him off the field for a sb run on the leagues best defense. 3rd year he is a starter for the sb champions.

i think thats what we get out of these 2. looking at tomlins track record, they can be to our secondary what timmons and woodley were to our lb's.

i kinda assumed ratliff would make team due to a decent showing vs az and experience, but really, assuming everyone is healthy and the rooks are holding their own how often does he see the field? and does he bring to ST's what madison does?

as per wexell-

Nance just cut and Ratliff fell down. Tomlin made big deal about the route. Ratliff wont make team.

im starting to lean towards keeping the special team ace with no upside. he brings chemistry and cohesivenes to one of the best return coverage teams in the league.

08-18-2009, 04:53 PM
maybe ratliff makes the team and deshea gets cut ...:noidea:

tony hipchest
08-18-2009, 04:59 PM
maybe ratliff makes the team and deshea gets cut ...:noidea:

i cant see that. that would REALLY destroy team chemistry. ratliff isnt a long term answer and there is no way he grasps the system as well as deshea does. these 2 rooks are long term though.

people always talk about lame duck cowher and bens accident as the reason why we sucked after our last superbowl, but i believe the chemistry and commaradery was greatly disrupted with the departure of jerome, hope, el, and kimo.

plus deshea and madison have both showed loyalty to the team and taken less money to stay with them. it sends a bad message to cut them for somebody that doesnt even know the players and is allowing martin nance to juke him out of his jockstrap in practice.

El-Gonzo Jackson
08-18-2009, 05:10 PM
what i dont really remember seeing in a long time is our defender break on the ball, charge at it at full speed and snatch it out of the air like he owned it. finally a cb with a pair of hands :applaudit:

Tony, watch some vido on Burnett in college. He has the smooth backpeddle, fluid hips and quick change of direction to jump routes and make picks like that. The only thing he lacks is real deep speed and height, but otherwise a guy that is gonna be a solid #3 CB for sure or a tampa 2 guy.

Keenan Lewis is still a guy that I think the Steeler faithfull will be even more impressed with in the long run. Tall kid that likes bump n run and playing man.

08-18-2009, 05:31 PM
Townsend is still rock solid and will not be cut.

08-19-2009, 08:19 AM
Townsend is still rock solid and will not be cut.

He's the quintessential example of how a guy does not have to be the most athletically gifted but because of solid technique can be very productive.