View Full Version : Hopes are high for 3 young CBs
06-04-2012, 12:10 AM
Hopes are high for 3 young CBs
June 3, 2012
Bob Labriola - Steelers Digest
Maybe William Gay was on to something.
Maybe the guy who tied for the team lead in interceptions last season with Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, who tied for second on the team in passes defensed with Polamalu, who played a lot of cornerback for a team that won a lot of games, saw the handwriting on the wall. Granted, William Gay never was a threat to make the Pro Bowl and his lot with the Steelers always was going to be as a contributor and not a star. But still, he was not a disposal part.
That’s why it was eye-opening when Gay left the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent for an Arizona Cardinals team that definitely did not break the bank to sign him.
As the Steelers head into their third week of OTAs, Gay’s rationale behind his career move is coming into focus. Based on what has been happening on the field during the six OTAs to date, Gay was looking at an immediate future with the Steelers where if he were not disposable then he certainly was looking replaceable.
There are many interesting story lines that will accompany the Steelers to Saint Vincent College when they open training camp there sometime in late July, and at the top of any list of those is the promise shown by the team’s trio of up-and-coming cornerbacks – Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.
The trio was listed in the previous sentence in the order by which they came to the Steelers, with Lewis, a fourth-year pro, being the senior member, and with Brown and Allen coming in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, of the 2011 NFL Draft. They are still listed by seniority, because as of right now there is no definitive way to list them based on their status for the upcoming 2012 season. Right now, all three cornerbacks still are in the mix for everything, including the starting spot opposite Ike Taylor.
“In the secondary, we are in good shape but our young corners are going to have to step in there and fill the void of Will Gay,” said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “Will also played nickel, so there will probably be a couple of players vying to fill the role of the two jobs Will Gay did for us.”
Nothing will be won or lost in this competition until the pads go on at training camp, but don’t take that to mean the work already hasn’t begun in earnest. Two weeks into OTAs, Brown seems to be around the football an awful lot during 7-on-7 and team drills; Lewis has been staying late regularly to work on his craft; and Allen continues to look and act like an NFL cornerback.
“Curtis Brown excelled on special teams (as a rookie),” said LeBeau. “He showed a willingness to compete, get to the ball and I’m sure that his tackles were up near the top. He stood out every week. He has great speed and quickness.
“Allen played more from scrimmage for us (in 2011) and also did a good job on special teams. I like his length. He’s a nice, tall, well-coordinated athlete who to my observation at least to this point has the demeanor you are looking for in a defensive corner. Corners have to have a very short memory. It isn’t all going to be good for them. This young man can handle adversity, has faced adversity, and has had some good plays and some plays we’re working on to get better. In the final analysis, he did a heck of a job in our victory against New England. He took their wonderful tight end (Rob Gronkowski) and neutralized him. (Gronkowski) couldn’t get away from Allen. Allen also played very well in both Cincinnati games when they were putting the extra wide receiver out there with speed all over the field. He matched their speed and gave us a capable defensive plan.”
Allen’s rookie training camp was marred by some nagging injuries that had him miss the first three preseason games, but with a roster spot on the line in the preseason finale, he contributed two tackles and three passes defensed. Brown put on a similar strong finishing kick to his bid for a roster spot with four tackles, two passes defensed and a special teams tackle in the same preseason finale.
Allen and Brown forever will be linked because they were in the same draft class; Lewis, in turn, often is linked with Mike Wallace because they became friends while growing up in the same New Orleans neighborhood and then came to the Steelers as a pair of third-round picks in 2009.
“Keenan was pretty much our third or fourth cornerback all through (2011),” said LeBeau. “He played in all of the third-down situations, he played quite a bit of scrimmage football. We statistically led the National Football League in passing yardage yielded, percentages completed – there were a lot of pluses in the pass defense side of our defensive statistics. Had we not had four or five corners who could step in there and deliver on Sunday for us, we couldn’t have accumulated those statistics. Keenan has already proven he can do the job.
“We think the horizon is an upward thing for several of these men, and Keenan is one of those guys. I like his size. He has good length, tremendous speed, has competed at a top level all through his career. I think the future is bright for Keenan Lewis.”
William Gay likely saw the same thing, and that’s why he left for Arizona.
06-07-2012, 10:46 PM
Carnell Lake Talks About His Young Cornerbacks & What Qualities He Looks For
Thursday, June 7th, 2012 by Dave Bryan
The great Carnell Lake, who is entering his second season as the secondary coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sat down with Bob Labriola for an interview yesterday that was played Wednesday on Steelers Live at 4. Labriola asked Lake some great questions that included his assessment of all three of his young cornerbacks, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, as well as his thoughts on having a complete off-season for the first time since being hired. In addition, Lake also was asked about what qualities he looks for in a starting cornerback.
The assessments by Lake of his young corners started with Lewis. "Well, starting with Keenan Lewis, he's been here a while and he understands the system. He's a tall corner, who can play press coverage as well as play off and he's got tremendous ball skills and he's fast, " said Lake. The former Steeler great continued on, "And when you combine all those with the experience he got last year, I'm looking for some good things out of him."
Next up were the thoughts of Lake on Brown. "Curtis Brown did a great job on special teams using his natural abilities to make plays," said Lake. "He's starting to really pick up the defensive system, and I think when he really understands the system, he'll be able to contribute in a big way for us."
Last, but not least, Lake gave his assessment of Allen. "Cortez Allen really showed some play-making abilities last year, particularly in the Patriots game," said Lake. "He is able to play big tight ends as well as small receivers man to man and I think we're going to be able to utilize those talents again this year with his combined experience, he should be a good part of our defense."
Labriola next asked Lake what this spring is doing for the young corners, being as he did not get time last off-season to work with the group until training camp, because of the lockout. "It's like night and day. A lot of the guys, a lot of the defensive backs, I met in training camp. So all the OTA's, the mini-camp leading up, I didn't have any of that with those guys and we had to basically cram everything into training camp," said Lake. He continued, "So we were a little behind last year and I have to give them credit. They really worked at it and were able to contribute. With the additional time that we have to work together before the season starts this year, I think they'll just get even better."
Labriola next asked Lake what kind of qualities he looks for in a starting NFL corner. "I think they have to have a number of qualities, but one, they just have to be mentally tough," said Lake. "At corner you're going to get beat. It's just a matter of time and you have to be able to bounce back from that and try to learn from whatever lessons that you may have received in getting beat and apply that to your game, and try to constantly improve. Then a natural talent that we try to find in terms of the talent search that just comes with football."
The biggest thing that I took away from the talk with Lake is that Brown seems to still be getting a firmer grasp of the defense, and that is to be expected. In addition, Lake is continuing to instill mental toughness in them, along with confidence. We have heard this confidence come out of the mouths of both Lewis and Allen in recent interviews they have given. Lewis has even said that he is expecting to go to the Pro Bowl this year and thinks he is on tap for a big year, in what will be his fourth in the NFL. Judging by the assessment that Lake had of Allen, it appears that he will most likely be the starting nickel back this year with Lewis starting outside opposite Ike Taylor. This matches the reports we have seen come out of the OTA sessions thus far in regard to the pecking order, none of which came as a surprise.
I have stated previously that there will likely be times that all three of these young corners will be on the field at the same time along with Taylor when the Steelers go to their seldom used Dime defense. That sub-package we will only likely see though against teams like the New England Patriots, who like to spread defenses out with their hybrid tight ends and quick wide receivers. Otherwise we will mostly see the Nickel sub-package in obvious passing situations.
We will not get to hear too much from Lake once the season starts, so it is always worth noting the little nuggets he gives out whenever he does speak. Hopefully we will get to hear him a few more times before training camp breaks.
06-08-2012, 06:40 PM
Thanks for this post1
06-10-2012, 02:50 AM
Pittsburgh Steelers Player Profiles: CB Keenan Lewis
by Rebecca Rollett on Jun 8, 2012
This is the third article in the series about players who will help to define the Steelers' 2012 season. The first, covering SS Troy Polamalu, can be found here. The second, covering RB Isaac Redman, can be found here.
"After two seasons of battling injuries, Lewis had a healthy senior campaign, establishing himself as one of the most physical cornerbacks in the West. His work ethic and team-first attitude saw him perform at a level that has professional scouts feeling that he will quickly emerge as one of the National Football League's elite pass defenders."
Thus begins the NFL pre-draft scouting report on Keenan Lewis. Unfortunately, the optimistic conclusion wasn't warranted, at least not yet.
Drafted in the third round in 2009, Lewis saw little action on the field, and a back injury eventually put him on the Reserve/Injured list.
Lewis was healthy for the 2010 season, but the only thing he did quickly was enter Mike Tomlin's doghouse. During preseason Game Three against the Denver Broncos, he made some mistakes, which was not a good start. He then got mad and picked up two personal-foul penalties, which was really not good. To top it all off, he smashed the glass around a sign on his way back to the locker room, causing Tomlin to hold him up as an example of "young and dumb." Not a propitious beginning to the season.
He spent a lot of time on the bench that season. He was inactive for Weeks 1, 3, and 4; 5 was the Bye week. He was also inactive for Weeks 6, 9, and 13 - 15. On the bright side, Lewis was not on the injury report for essentially the whole year. It may not have seemed like the bright side to him at the time, but he was never riding the pine because of an injury.
After Week 15 he was on the roster for every game, including the Super Bowl. However, he only got about 40 snaps the entire season, and the bulk of them were in the Oakland game when the Raiders were beyond help, even from friendly Steelers fire.
During the post-season Lewis had only one play sufficiently notable to make it into the NFL game summaries. Early in the second quarter of the Ravens-Steelers Divisional game, Lewis was awarded an Illegal Block in the Back penalty, negating seven yards of Antonio Brown's eleven-yard punt return. (Lewis was hardly the only, or worst, offender in the early part of the game. I still haven't gotten over Cory Redding walking into our endzone because NOBODY COULD BE BOTHERED TO FALL ON THE BALL. I'm not bitter, though. Had the Steelers lost the game it might be a different story.)
This was, I'm sure, not the path Lewis envisioned for himself when he was drafted, or, for that matter, the path the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him. But Lewis decided to take his fate into his own hands. When the Steelers lost Defensive Backs coach Ray Horton to the Arizona Cardinals, they hired former Steeler DB Carnell Lake. Determined to make his mark before it was too late, Lewis went to talk to his new position coach. As Lake tells it,
I have a soft spot for Keenan. Keenan was a 3rd round pick three years ago, but never really played much. When I came on board he was like a little sad puppy.
He came to me in July and said 'I'm glad you're here, Coach; whatever I can do, I want to help, and if you have any extra time can you work with me?' And so we started working together after practice. The guys already had double practices on those days, and yet he still wanted to do more. This made me feel that he might be something special.
He's big—over six feet tall. I'm six feet tall, and he's a little taller than I am. He's just as fast as the other DBs, so how come this guy's not playing? I started asking some questions, and they would say 'He's not this, he's not that.' I decided to just work with him and decide for myself whether Lewis had what it took or not. I wanted to see that he got a shot.
Keenan has been playing better every week, and last week he sealed the deal against Kansas City with the interception. I was walking past the guys saying 'good job' and so on, and Lewis grabbed me, gave me a hug, and said 'I love you, Coach!'...That was my first great experience as a coach here.
Carnell Lake appeared to have made an enormous difference in the play of the Steelers' secondary last season, although the jury is still out as to exactly what the greatly improved pass defense can be attributed. There are plenty in Steeler Nation who won't really be believers unless the secondary can put up similar numbers this coming season against a tougher lineup of quarterbacks. But whatever the case may be generally for the DBs, there is no question that Keenan Lewis greatly improved last year. He credits Lake for the improvement, and said he is probably the best coach he ever had.
The departure of William Gay, also for Pittsburgh West, leaves the second cornerback position open, and is generally considered to be Lewis's to lose. But he has a couple of second-year players breathing down his neck.
Curtis Brown had accumulated the most special teams tackles last season until an injury in December sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Cortez Allen saw an increasing amount of time on the field toward the end of the season, and comes into the 2012 season with game experience and familiarity with Dick LeBeau's complicated defense.
It's good to have competition, but it sounds as if Keenan Lewis doesn't really need it. He has set his sites higher than just winning the number two corner position. Lewis declared to Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette that he will make the Pro Bowl this season. If he does, it would be surprising, but I don't think anyone would be complaining.
This season it is critical for someone to step up to the plate and not just play but play very well in the spot opposite Ike Taylor. If Keenan Lewis can finally fulfill the promise the NFL scouts saw in him back in 2009, the Steelers will be set. If he falters and none of the youngsters behind him can fill the spot either, the Steelers' defense is going to struggle.
Fortunately Lewis is smart, hard-working and determined. (The scouting report also noted "Lewis not only excelled on the football field, but also received recognition for his success in the classroom, earning Academic All-Pac 10 Conference honors as a senior.") With Coach Lake at his side, and if he stays healthy, the Steelers' pass defense just might have another banner year.
06-21-2012, 01:53 AM
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20, 2012
posted by Dale Lolley
I did a radio spot with Greg Linelli today and he asked me about which position battle for the Steelers I am most looking forward to seeing - or at least something along those lines.
To me, I feel the cornerback position will be the most interesting.
Currently, Keenan Lewis is holding down the starting spot opposite Ike Taylor, with second-year players Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen pushing.
One of those three will also serve as the slot corner as well. Brown seems best suited for that position, but Allen's athleticism is hard to deny.
Lewis, however, played very well last season as the third corner and has much more experience than the other two.
Unless Dick LeBeau can come up with a way to get all three corners young corners on the field at the same time, somebody is going to be disappointed.
What position battle are you looking forward to?
@ Speaking of Linelli, he has long been one of the underrated and underutilized radio hosts in the Pittsburgh market.
Soon, he won't be.
Greg is moving on to greener pastures. Good luck to him.
06-21-2012, 02:07 AM
I think Allen, Lewis, and Brown will be the key to the defense. if Harrison and Woodley stay healthy we will get some QB pressure which will make things easier on the young CB's, but ultimately they are going to have to make some plays on their own if we are going to shut down teams like New England the way we did last year. All 3 of them looked good last year, Brown mostly on ST, and if all 3 of them play well this season we can be looking at a defense much like 2008. Teams are passing now and we adjusted for that last year, transitioning to a pass stopping defense first, but we lacked a #2 shut down corner. Except for the Denver game Ike was excellent last year, his situational stats were comparable to Revis, but Gay was not a shut down corner. Gay played well and showed more improvement then I have seen any football player make, but to have a defense like the 2008 defense in the modern league you need 2 shut down corners, like the Jets have Cromartie and Revis. The Steelers are always weak in one small area but tend to be so much better in others that we overcome things like a poor O line or poor #2 corner play, but if one of these guys steps up big we could have another season where we ask ourselves at the end of it "was that the best defense that ever played?", much like the 2008 season.
06-21-2012, 05:18 PM
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Cornerbacks
Thursday, June 21st, 2012 by Dave Bryan
The Pittsburgh Steelers open training camp in Latrobe in just over a month from now. With the OTA sessions and mini camp behind us, we can now start to focus on the battles for roster spots for certain positions.
First up in our series is the cornerback position. The Steelers have opened the last two seasons with 6 cornerbacks on the 53 man roster and that could indeed be the case once again this year. Gone from last year are William Gay and Bryant McFadden. The four locks at this time to make the 53 man roster are obvious in Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. With that being noted, there figures to be at least one if not two roster spots available on the 53 at the cornerback position.
Currently there are four cornerbacks on the Steelers 90 man roster that could compete for those two spots in Terrence Frederick, Terry Carter, Andre Freeman and Walter McFadden. Let's have a look at each
Terrence Frederick - Frederick was drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round this past April out of Texas A&M where he started 45 of 50 career games. He finished his college career with 205 tackles and 6 sacks. He is a little undersized at 5096, and although he played both inside and outside in college, many scouts believe that he is best suited as a nickel back in a 3-4 defense. Frederick was credited with 30 pass break-ups and 4 interceptions in his 50 games at A&M and he also forced 2 fumbles. Despite being regarded as undersized and slow of foot by scouts, General Manager Kevin Colbert termed him quicker than fast following his selection. Frederick makes up for both of those perceived negatives with his ability to quickly diagnose plays and his understanding of good angles. He is a very willing tackler, but very inconsistent in every facet of his game, much like all late round corners. His tackling technique is inconsistent at times, but that can be improved as he seems willing to hit. His main weakness that showed up on film was when he was asked to press or play man coverage. He can close quickly when playing in zone and is usually always around the ball. He figures to only make the 53 man roster if he shows some upside in training camp and ability to play on special teams. Since being drafted, we have not heard the name of Frederick much during all of the OTA sessions and the mini camp. Just because he was drafted in no way makes him a lock for the 53 man roster, but he figures to have the inside track.
Terry Carter - Carter was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech and measures in at 5102. During his college career, Carter recorded 152 total tackles, 61 of which came in his final season. He also was responsible for 18 career pass break-ups, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles in the 47 games he played in. From the limited tape I have watched of Carter, he mostly lined up on the outside left. He can play both man and off, but seems better suited for off coverage in a zone type defense such as the Steelers play. He does not flip his hips very fluidly and tends to turn and run too soon at times. He does seem to close well when the play is in front of him though, but is not really good at fighting off blockers, especially tight ends. His tackle numbers suggest he his willing to hit, but I did not see enough film on him to judge that ability. The good thing about Carter is that we did here is name mentioned a few times by the media during the recent mini camp as he reportedly made a few nice interceptions. Much like Frederick, he will have to show his ability to perhaps play both inside and outside in camp and he must excel in special teams to secure a roster spot.
Walter McFadden - McFadden was signed to the roster just after the 2011 season ended. He was originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but only saw action in four games his rookie season. McFadden saw his most playing time against the Miami Dolphins in week 12 of the 2010 season at right cornerback and he did not fare well. He was thrown at 6 times and allowed 5 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown. The Raiders released the former Auburn product prior to the start of the 2011 season and he eventually landed on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars in mid October. His stay with the Jaguars did not last long, but following his release he was signed to the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad for one week. McFadden measures in at 5100 and is likely best suited to play inside. He is a real longshot to make the Steelers 53.
Andre Freeman - Freeman was a late arrival as he was signed to roster as an undrafted free agent in May after playing at nearby Slippery Rock. The 5105 cornerback played outside in college and recorded 23 tackles, 1 interception and 2 pass break-ups in 7 games last season. Freeman has been working extensively with Taylor since being signed, and could be a dark horse candidate for a roster spot with a strong training camp. He flashed early in OTA sessions according to a few media reports, but that is the extent of what we have heard about him since his signing. His reps will likely be limited, so he must take advantage of every snap he gets and he must outshine the other roster hopeful cornerbacks on special teams. Freeman did have two punt blocks in one game against Lock Haven in 2009.
In summation, one roster spot is certainly open for one of the four players listed above with the possibility of two making it depending on how the numbers shake out. At this time I would say that McFadden has the longest shot of the four of making the roster. We should get a much better idea on the other three when camp opens as to what order they are getting reps respectively. Special teams is everything to these young cornerbacks, so pay close attention to each when the preseason games get started.
07-09-2012, 04:21 PM
Steelers 2012 Position Battles: Cornerback
July 9th, 2012
The Steelers have 2 open Cornerback positions at the moment. They need a starting CB across from Ike Taylor and they need a nickel cornerback. This could be a very heated battle this year. There are three young up and coming players who have shown promise and will fight it out for these spots.
This will be a big year for the Steelers. They went from William Gay and Bryant McFadden who are guys that have started in this league to guys who have rarely seen the field. Keenan Lewis has absorbed the most playing time but still is an untested youngster. Cortez Allen played off and on before his injury and Curtis Brown while a special teams demon did not play defense this past season. These guys will be tested this year and we will see if the Steelers are ready for the future or if the team will need to look at the secondary heading into next offseason.
All three of these guys will have a role on this team. There are 3 of them and there is a starter, nickel and dime position to be had. So who becomes the starter and who becomes the nickelback?
Lets start with Keenan Lewis. Lewis was the nickelback last season. He got on the field every game and had one start. Lewis picked off one pass against Kansas City. He did not do a bad job when on the field. He was consistent in what he did. Lewis played Steelers football. He did not really get burned but did have the receiver catch the ball in front of him and make the tackle. He made the play but not the splash play.
Lewis should be the front runner and the expected starter. He has the most experience and has already played in this defense. If it were up to Ike Taylor Lewis would be the starter. Taylor is expecting big things from Lewis saying “the expectations for him around here are sky high.”
He should be counted on as the guy who hits the field and takes charge of the position. Lewis had that oppurtunity last season though and did not take advantage. Taylor went down in the first preseason game with a broken thumb and Lewis had free reign to make plays and take the starting spot away from William Gay. He did not take advantage of his chance and that worries me for how much better did he really get this offseason.
Next is Curtis Brown. Brown was a special teams monster last season. He did not see the field as a defensive back though. Brown while with a lack of experience is the best suited to play the corner position the way the Steelers play defense. He is a solid zone corner that likes to tackle. He fits the scheme very well.
Brown will have to do a lot of work to crack the lineup this season though. Without touching the field last year and only being in his second season he has an uphill battle. Dick Lebeau does not like young guys. He likes players to wait three years to play in his system. Brown will need a monster preseason to make the starting lineup.
Lastly is Cortez Allen. Allen played off and on last season. He was given duties to take away Rob Gronkowski against the Patriots. He did well that day. The then saw more action up until he was injured late in the season. Allen has high potential in the NFL. After watching him last season though I still think he should be the replacement for Ryan Clark at Free Safety in the future. Allen showed that ability while taking on Gronkowski and he has the ability to work at the position and learn under Clark.
When all is said and done at the end of the day this is Keenan Lewis’ job to lose. He will head out with the first team in the preseason and be able to show what he has first. The real battle will be between Allen and Brown to see who takes over the nickel cornerback postion. My heart is on Brown but my money is on Allen. Rookies to not often see the field on defense. Allen was trusted to cover the best tight end in football. He has the advantage.
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