It’s the position that can make a good defense a great one and the position that can make a good defense look like Swiss cheese. The Pittsburgh Steelers head into 2012 with questions at cornerback and veteran Ike Taylor is a part of those questions in my opinion. As we move from back to front, steeleraddicts.com continues looking at the defense as we focus on the cornerbacks in today’s roster throwdown.
Ike Taylor - The veteran corner has been everything defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wanted in his 3-4 defense. Taylor uses his excellent speed to stay with receivers and keep ball carriers in front of him. LeBeau likes his corners to play that way and they must be excellent tacklers as well which Taylor is. If there was any knock on him it has been his inability to corral more interceptions.
Taylor will once again be called on to be the team’s top shutdown corner with uncertainty on the other side of the field. Unfortunately, our last vision of Taylor from the 2011 season was his rather pathetic attempt at tackling Denver’s Demaryius Thomas as he scored on the first play of overtime in the Steelers’ playoff loss. I don’t put that loss or play entirely on Taylor but it was not one of his better games or moments.
The 2012 defense must get a Pro Bowl type season from Taylor if it is to regain the image of a blitzing, unpredictable group it had been prior to the vanilla we saw last year. Much of that was due to injury but good corner play can allow LeBeau more options and more aggressiveness. Taylor having a bad year is not an option and the way he ended 2011 has me concerned.
Keenan Lewis - I believe Lewis will win the starting job opposite Ike Taylor in 2012 simply due to his experience over Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. Lewis is not going to wow you or invoke memories of Rod Woodson but he appears more solid than ever and his confidence grew throughout last year when saw the field.
Don’t get me wrong as either Brown or Allen could win the job but I feel it is Lewis’ to lose at this point.
Should Lewis struggle early in the season I don’t think the coaching staff will have any problem replacing him. Brown and Allen showed promise last season and both looked pretty good in the nickel. With that said, Lewis will get the start and will not need to be spectacular. He just needs to be solid.
Cortez Allen – Entering his 2nd year, Allen is coming off a shoulder injury which ended his season a tad early, but he did more than enough to make people think this guy could be a huge factor for the Steelers down the road.
Already a very good special teams guy, Allen played very well in the nickel spot last year and his excellent size and physicality make it difficult for receivers to get open. Despite limited action that grew throughout the season, Allen recorded 15 tackles. The intangible I like about Allen is that he has not played a lot of football in his life (only one year of varsity in high school) and he has improved dramatically each season he has played. I really think the sky is the limit for Allen.
Curtis Brown – The second year man from Texas was a demon on special teams last season but much like Allen, he finished the season early due to injury. Finishing with 14 tackles and a forced fumble, Brown clearly cemented himself a position on the special teams unit but is now looking for more as he battles with Allen and Lewis for the starting cornerback spot.
My opinion is that Brown is not quite ready to start there yet, but he provides solid depth and could be a huge factor in nickel and dime situations in the pass-happy NFL. With some small talk about Allen seeing time at safety, that could open the door for Brown to see even more time on defense but that’s yet to be determined. Like Allen, I believe Brown will have a very nice season with a year of NFL experience under his belt.
Other Options – Two rookies that the defensive coaching staff really liked coming out of the summer OTA’s and mini-camps were seventh-round draft pick Terrence Frederick from Texas A&M and free agent Terry Carter from Louisiana Tech. Both guys are durable, tough players who will excel more in zone coverages than in man-to-man.
With four solid guys in front of them, it will be tough to crack the 53-man roster. Separating themselves in certain packages and on special teams could go a long way towards achieving that goal.
Analysis – With four safeties being kept on the roster, my guess is that you’ll see Taylor, Brown, Allen, and Lewis for sure. The question mark will be if Frederick or Carter can show enough defensively or on special teams to crack the roster. My feeling right now is no. I think the four corners are set but I’ve been wrong before….