Perhaps Keenan Lewis got ahead of himself on just the third day of spring practice for the Steelers. He has yet to win the starting job at left cornerback and has two second-year players nipping at his heels.
It did not prevent him from making a bold prediction, and he did so by blowing right past the idea that anyone other than him would be the starting left cornerback.
"Pro Bowl," Lewis predicted for himself this season. "Watch out, this is going to be a big year right here."
Reaching his goal would be a surprise in more ways than one, including the fact that the Steelers have not had an official Pro Bowl cornerback since Rod Woodson in the 1996 season, although an asterisk should be put on that one.
Lewis, in fact, was on the right track when he answered that trivia question: "Coach Lake?"
Indeed, Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake split time between strong safety and cornerback in 1997 and was voted to the Pro Bowl as a safety.
Either way, the Steelers have not had a Pro Bowl cornerback for 15 years. Some of his teammates believe Ike Taylor should have made it, but he hasn't.
Lewis has the size (6 feet, 208 pounds) and talent to do so, but first he'll have to win that starting job after two years of mostly special teams play and then his move up to cornerback in the nickel defense last season.
He said Lake has been working to help him improve, and most of that involves learning, ironic because Lewis was a four-time academic All-Pac 10 at Oregon State.
"I'm trying to find things I need to work on from last year," said Lewis, who added he wants to become "more a student of the game.
"'I have all the athletic ability and things like that, just knowing things better will make me a step faster."
A step -- or maybe even closer -- behind him are two draft picks from last year, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. All three will fight for a job that has been less than stable since Deshea Townsend left. It belonged to Bryant McFadden in 2008, then William Gay in '09 when McFadden left as a free agent, then McFadden came back and started in '10 before Gay took it away from him early last season.
Both are gone. The Steelers released McFadden, and Gay signed as a free agent with Arizona.
Lewis finds himself in the same position as his hometown buddy, Mike Wallace. Both were restricted free agents without contract offers from anyone else but the one-year tender from the Steelers. Lewis signed his $1.26 million offer. Wallace has not signed his $2.74 million offer, and the wide receiver is not attending spring drills.
The two left Perry Walker High in New Orleans together and joined the Steelers together as third-round draft choices in 2009.
That's where the similarities end.
Wallace has become one of the game's best deep threats and a Pro Bowler. Lewis is still trying to become a starter.
Lewis, though, does not take a back step to his friend in the confidence department.
"This year," the determined cornerback said, "I plan to come in and show them."
Ben Roethlisberger, who did not practice Thursday, said the new offense is making "progress. We're getting there. I figured three days in week one, we've made some progress."
Coach Mike Tomlin told Roethlisberger to take the day off, so he stood behind the offense with a copy of the practice script and basically watched.
"Mental reps," is what he called his day.
He said it had nothing to do with his previous sore arm or ankle.
"It was nice having the script on me and seeing everything, and it gave me more time to talk to Coach during [practice]."
He said he was "trying to look at everything and talk to players and try to get an understanding what everybody's doing on every play."
What happens if rookie Mike Adams goes through training camp and cannot cut the mustard at left tackle?
Trai Essex, Jonathan Scott (who opened there last season) or Marcus Gilbert?
Gilbert was pegged to be the left tackle this season right up until the Steelers drafted Adams in the second round. Gilbert played left tackle at Florida his final year, and both he and Tomlin have called it his more natural position.
Gilbert started 14 games at right tackle as a rookie after the injury in the opener to Willie Colon.
"I'm naturally the left," said Gilbert, who was put there in his rookie training camp.
"When they moved me over to the right tackle, it took me a week or two to get back in the groove.
"I got the hang of things. It's all about preparation and repetition."
First Published May 25, 2012 4:00 AM