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Townsend able to hold onto right cornerback spot
The competition, if there ever was any, to become the Steelers' right cornerback has ended. It goes to the man who held the office the past 2 1/2 seasons.
Young Bryant McFadden, who kept the Steelers' road to the Super Bowl alive with a slap to a Peyton Manning pass, did not so much fail to unseat Deshea Townsend, 30, as those efforts this summer reaffirmed just how good the veteran plays the position.
McFadden, entering his second season, is the kind of cornerback the Steelers have long sought -- young, fast, aggressive, around the ball and hard to beat. Yet they have just such a cornerback in Townsend. On many Steelers teams of the past, McFadden would be a starter, but not on this one.
"It's going to be hard to beat out Deshea," secondary coach Darren Perry said, diplomatically, yesterday.
It took the Steelers 5 1/2 seasons after they drafted Townsend in the fourth round to discover him. That's when their No. 3 cornerback finally earned a shot at starting, in the middle of the 2003 season when he replaced an injured Chad Scott at left cornerback. He remained there once Scott returned to health, then moved to right cornerback in 2004 after Dewayne Washington was released.
The competition that was supposed to surface at right cornerback this summer may have ended in mid-March, when the Steelers talked Townsend away from the New England Patriots. Townsend, an unrestricted free agent for less than a week, sat in the office of Patriots personnel boss Scott Pioli for two hours talking, with a New England contract and a pen sitting on the desk before him.
Townsend didn't do all his talking with Pioli, though. There was the telephone call from Bill Cowher, too.
"It was crazy," Townsend recounted. "I was sitting in the office with Scott Piolo. I had the contract in front of me. I was on the phone with my agent, on the phone with my wife. Then the Steelers called. They called my agent and I talked to coach Cowher while I was sitting in the office."
Townsend excused himself with Piolo and headed back to Pittsburgh, where he signed a four-year, $8 million contract to stay put.
"I took a little less to come back here," Townsend said. "I'm familiar with it here and there are a lot of guys I like to be around, and not have to worry about change. It worked out best for me."
Because of that, because of McFadden's play as a rookie and his expected natural improvement from there, because left corner Ike Taylor played so well in 2005, and because Ricardo Colclough has made good strides in his third camp, the Steelers have not been this good and deep at cornerback in years. The presence of Townsend, McFadden and Colclough is a reason why Taylor was not able to reach a contract extension for a sizable amount from the Steelers.
McFadden has the look of a good cornerback, yet he has been unable to unseat Townsend.
"Until it's my time not to be starting, I want to be starting," said Townsend in Yogi Berra speak.
McFadden became the club's No. 3 cornerback last season, and saved its Super Bowl run. The Steelers were ahead by three points but the Colts were 28 yards from a score with 1:01 left in their Jan. 15 playoff game when Peyton Manning put the ball on target to Reggie Wayne in the end zone. McFadden neatly tipped it away.
"Oh, he's good," Townsend said. "He's a good cover guy, he can tackle. Everything the Steelers look for they have right there in Bryant McFadden."
McFadden will have to play the role that Townsend did so well during much of his first 5 1/2 seasons, as the No. 3 cornerback. The way offenses deploy three and four wide receivers so often, McFadden won't want for playing time.
"That third corner, he's just like a starter," Perry said. "To have some depth right there, it's a luxury really."
Townsend can teach McFadden the art of patience. He was almost pigeonholed as a good No. 3 corner before Scott was injured in the middle of the '03 season, opening a full-time job that he kept when Scott returned to health.
"I just think I got lucky, a good situation," Townsend said. "A lot of times guys are forced into things and it leaves a certain perception with people."
He learned one thing above the rest during his previous eight seasons, something McFadden and Colclough can keep in mind.
"It's our job to cover," Townsend said. "If you keep their guy from catching the ball, they'll keep you out there some way."