09-30-2011, 03:24 AM
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Rookie CBs ready when Steelers need them
I find it interesting that Cortez Allen - not Curtis Brown - came in for both Ike and Keenan.
The Steelers' starting defensive unit has received plenty of attention this season, in part, because it's the oldest in the NFL.
But it pitched a shutout against Seattle. And it forced a momentum-changing turnover in a 23-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Oft-scrutinized cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are reasons the Steelers lead the NFL in pass defense, yielding 164 yards per game, even with McFadden missing the past two games with a hamstring injury.
McFadden's injury is one reason defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau takes a long look at the team's rookie cornerbacks — third-round pick Curtis Brown and fourth-round selection Cortez Allen.
"They haven't been tested under fire, but they are making progress," LeBeau said Thursday. "Right now they're making plays on special teams, and that's a great indicator they have good motors and they have skills to find the ball in the open field — all assets for good defensive backs."
LeBeau, though, would rather his rookie cornerbacks watch and learn when the Steelers face All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans at Reliant Field this Sunday.
So far, Brown leads the Steelers with three solo tackles on special teams. Also, he's made several key blocks to help spring punt returner Antonio Brown.
"Cortez is laid back and very mature," said safety Ryan Clark. "Curtis is 100 miles per minute and super quick. They are going to complement each other well.
"The fact that they understand their roles (on special teams) says a lot about their maturity. "They're top draft picks, and they want to play, but they understand that's their job right now."
Allen and Brown aren't expected to get significant playing time in the secondary this season, partly because pre-camp workouts were limited by the NFL lockout. Yet, they are soaking in as much knowledge as possible from the Steelers' veteran cornerbacks.
"Since we didn't have OTAs, we didn't have the opportunity to learn the system or get the reps we needed in camp," Brown said. "So we were forced to learn a lot in such a small time frame. What we can do is run and hit, especially on special teams."
Allen had to step in against the Colts when a stunned Taylor wobbled toward the sideline after banging his head on the field. Although Allen and Brown are playing mostly special teams, LeBeau is confident in their pass-coverage abilities if they are pressed into duty against the Texans.
"You never know how things will pan out," said the 6-foot-1 Allen from the Citadel. "We prepare as if we're going to get in or start. It's the kind of approach I always take."
Allen had to square up against Indianapolis Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne with Taylor on the bench. Then he stepped in at nickel back when Keenan Lewis limped off the field with cramps.
"I prepare myself knowing there's a possibility someone could go down," Allen said. "Sometimes you worry about your nerves, but I felt extremely confident out there."
Perhaps no one is as confident as Brown. The former Texas cornerback may have more difficulty harnessing his emotions than defending the Texans' receivers.
Brown's enthusiasm drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Seattle. Coach Mike Tomlin reprimanded him, but it did little to slow him down.
"Sometimes, the dog gets out," Brown said. "I just have to keep it clean between the whistles. I can't afford to lose my head. But I'm going back out there being feisty. Coach just tried to keep my head on straight."