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Why young competition will make Steelers’ Ike Taylor better

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has been a staple on the defense since 2005 when he started 15-16 regular season games. He was drafted in 2003 but only started 1 game each of his first two years. When Bill Cowher decided to take the young talent out of Lousiana Lafayette and turn him into a cornerback, there was certainly growing pains to live through. The patented spit fest, scowl,  and jaw of Cowher Power was evident on a regular basis as Taylor continued to grow into his new role.

Fast forward to the present day and Taylor has been the best corner on the Steelers roster for so long it’s hard to remember who was there before him.  In case you don’t remember, it was Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington as the starters before Taylor came to the team and eventually took over. Anyways, like we were saying, Taylor has been the unquestioned best overall corner on the team, with the ability to take over his side of the field for entire games at a time. After all, what was the point of throwing to his direction when you have others opposite him like an ailing Bryant McFadden, a largely under achieving Will Gay, or what have you. Let’s not start the William Gay is underrated talk again though please, he’s gone now to Arizona and we wish him the best of luck…moving on.

That’s a big reason that Taylor never gets a bid to the pro bowl. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve it, that’s a no brainer quite honestly. He takes on the offenses’ best receiver all day long, most of the time without help and loves every minute of it. He can tackle, cover, jam the receiver and recover quickly enough to break up the play.  He’s an all around corner who can do it all consistently. Even with all that talent though, his best season in terms of interceptions since he came into the NFL was in 2007 when he racked up a whopping 3. For the last 2 seasons seasons he’s got just 4 picks total, 2 in each year. Those numbers are never going to be enough to get him a pro bowl bid. It’s unfortunate, but true. You would think that his peers who vote and the coaches who vote would show him some love. It’s a never ending debate that with any luck will one day come to an end when gets enough votes but for now Taylor is happy to be in Pittsburgh and happy that he can fulfill the role he’s asked to do.

There’s some young up start talent though that will be nipping at his heels as early as this coming season, which will most definitely make him a better player. Oh, we’re not suggesting that Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen, or Keenan Lewis is going to unseat Taylor, but when you add those 3 hungry football minds and a teacher like Carnell Lake, the sky is the limit for all of them.

Allen played in the dime defense for the last half of the year on a regular basis and earned the praise of the coaching staff for his dedication to learning such a complicated scheme. if you remember, Coach Dad said he felt comfortable with Cortez in there. That’s pretty high praise for anyone, let alone a rookie at the time.

Curtis Brown battled through injuries from preseason all the way throughout the year but when he did see the field, the 3rd round pick started to show why the Steelers decided to take him so highly last season. He played in 12 games last season, finishing with 14 tackles and 1 FF. He was widely considered one of the top CB’s entering the 2011 NFL draft, and honestly I didn’t think he’d be there when the Steelers turn came around. If he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit.

Keenan Lewis, the former dog house employee of Mike Tomlin had himself a solid season and contrary to what many think, I feel he’ll ultimately win the starting job opposite Taylor this season. This is Lewis’ time to shine. Playing primarily behind starter Will Gay, #23 had 28 tackles, 6 passes defensed, & 1 interception. He also is signed just through the 2012 season, after that he’s a free agent. This is the time for him to show the coaches what he can do in the future for them as well as showcase himself for other teams should things not work out beyond this season. He’s got good speed and natural athletic ability, it’s time to put it all together.

All 3 of these guys along with Taylor will push each other both in camp and on the field, and while Ike is the teacher on the field when it comes to technique and knowing the defense, some healthy competition always makes you better.

In the end, Ike Taylor will keep his job but the shootout on the other side is going to be a blast to watch this coming training camp and preseason. An all out competition to see who wants it bad enough, I can’t wait! Dick Lebeau’s defense will be the beneficiary of that competition because the depth behind the starters is going to potentially be the best the Steelers have had in the last 10 years.

 

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