Saturday, September 16, 2006
By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Size matters. Especially when you are trying to guard fellows who stand almost a full head above you. Fellows who measure 6 feet 6, 6-4, 6-4.
You are 6-1 Ike Taylor. You are 5-10 Deshea Townsend. Sure, this isn't basketball, no worries about banging the boards there. Although boxing out seems like sage advice in football, which is the venue where these Steelers cornerbacks will find themselves Monday night in Jacksonville facing a tall task.
"It's one of those things we have to be on top of our game," said backup safety Mike Logan, who stands 6-1. "[They're] some gifted, young receivers. And, obviously, they're taller than all of our defensive backs."
"You don't face those types of guys every day," Townsend said.
Six-foot-6 Matt Jones, 6-4 Reggie Williams and 6-4 Ernest Wilford are the favorite wideout targets of 6-5 Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich. So, when defensive backs talk about those folks operating at a different level, at a higher plane, they are speaking about horizontal challenges.
Williams caught six of Leftwich's passes, one for a touchdown, in Jacksonville's 24-17 victory Sunday against Dallas in Alltel Stadium. Jones, a second-year player converted from college quarterback, caught five passes for 71 yards and his 14.2-yard average per reception topped Terrell Owens in that game.
"You can tell he's definitely into being a receiver now, after playing quarterback," Townsend said. "He's becoming a good receiver."
And Wilford caught three passes for 58 yards, a 19.1-yard average.
With longtime Steelers nemesis Jimmy Smith retiring in May with 862 career receptions, that left Leftwich and the Jacksonville passing game in the capable wideout hands of the firm of Jones, Wilford and Williams, the last two being third-year pros.
This isn't an unfamiliar assignment for Taylor, Townsend, et. al. Williams caught three passes for 50 yards against the Steelers Oct. 16 at Heinz Field, on his way to 35 receptions for 445 yards on the season. Wilford caught two for 15, on his way to 41 for 681 and a team-leading seven touchdown passes. Jones caught two for 20, his 10-yard reception giving the visitors the lead in a game they won in overtime, 23-17.
That experience doesn't matter to Taylor: "That's just football overall. Big or small, you've got to position yourself. Steve Smith [of Carolina], I don't know how tall he is, but he always goes up and gets the ball."
True, Smith is 5-9. The difference between Smith and Jones is nine inches as a starting point. Of course, you can't coach height.
But you can coach such fundamentals such as fronting, battling. Therein lie the keys to these Steelers.
"So you can throw the ball up and let them high-point it," Taylor said.
"But, for us corners, we just have to try to position ourselves."
"You just have to compete," Townsend added. "There are still certain things they are able to do because of their height. But, when the ball's in the air, you have to beat the receiver. You have to go up and attack the ball."
"That's one thing that Ike does really well, competing all the way to the end for the ball," Logan continued. "He's coming down with that. Those are some of the things we have to work on."
Problem is, that very skill also appears to be a Jaguars strong suit.
"Watching those guys, one thing they're really good at is going up and getting after the football," Logan said. "You see Matt Jones going up over defenders. Last week, Ernest Wilford came down behind the guy and did a nice job grabbing the ball."
So negating such height means staying between the pass and the lanky receiver.
It means wrapping your hands around any potential interception, a bugaboo for Taylor even in the opener, when he failed to snag a Miami Dolphins pass into the end zone. Said he: "It isn't anything but concentration, that's all."
"It means you have to look at what they like to do with receivers of that height," Townsend said.
"It means a lot when you're that tall.
"The main thing is to keep them from catching the ball."
That is no short order.