Deshea Townsend is the Steelers' starting right cornerback until further notice.
If 2007 is going to be season that Bryant McFadden finally replaces Townsend in the lineup, McFadden's going to have to prove he's equally stout against the pass and run. McFadden also needs to influence his coaches, who consider Townsend to be another coach on the field.
McFadden is a second-round draft pick entering his third season, which means he should be right on schedule to become a starter. Teams don't draft players in the second round to stand on the sideline. "Since Day 1, that was my first initiative -- to improve and show everybody that I'm capable of being that guy, being that starter," McFadden said.
McFadden played in all 16 games last season, making nine starts. He filled in for an injured Townsend and also climbed the depth chart when former coach Bill Cowher played musical chairs in the secondary and didn't start left cornerback Ike Taylor for five games.
McFadden, known as B-Mac to teammates and coaches, led the Steelers with three interceptions and had 12 passes defended last season.
He left enough of an impression that defensive backs coach Ray Horton promised an open competition during training camp.
But McFadden seems solidly behind Townsend on the depth chart, with Ricardo Colclough, a second-round draft pick in 2004, also in the mix at right cornerback.
"Nothing's etched in stone. Every year, I approach it like I'm a new guy trying to win a job," said Townsend, who's been a full-time starter since the middle of the 2003 season.
Horton appreciates McFadden because of his youth and upside. He's six years younger than Townsend, and his body has endured less wear and tear. Plus, he's shown that he's a capable player.
"B-Mac's done a fantastic job since his rookie year," Horton said. "He's an up-and-coming player who's big and strong and fast."
Conversely, Horton speaks of Townsend with respect.
The Steelers like that there are no surprises with Townsend, who had two interceptions, two sacks, two forced fumbles and 13 passes defended last season.
"He understands how to play. He knows every position," Horton said of Townsend, who turns 32 the day before the Steelers' opener at Cleveland. "Teams say they're going to attack this guy, but at the end of the day, he's going to win more than he loses."
During voluntary workouts at the team's South Side facility, Townsend's experience apparently has left a bigger impression with coaches than McFadden's potential.
However, that doesn't mean McFadden can't or won't change those impressions if he continues to follow the learning curve from his rookie season.
"B-Mac's been coming off the bench, but he has the talent of a starter," agent Roosevelt Barnes said of his client. "It's just a matter of them putting him in the starting lineup. When he plays, he makes plays." When McFadden doesn't play, it's usually because of Townsend, who's still standing as the Steelers' starting right cornerback.