Steelers secondary concerns turn into prime issue
The Chargers' Danario Alexander pulls down a touchdown against the Josh Victorian in the fourth quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
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Under normal circumstances, Steelers safety Ryan Clark said he would have taken a couple of days off this week to rest his sore midsection.
But the Steelers secondary has been ravaged by injuries recently, and Clark said Thursday he felt like he had to practice because the young cornerbacks who will play Sunday against Dallas needed guidance as they prepared to face the Cowboys.
Josh Victorian and Robert Golden are not household names, even among the most die-hard of Steelers fans, but they will be on center stage against quarterback Tony Romo and wider receiver Dez Bryant because two of the team's top three cornerbacks are injured.
The Steelers will be without starting cornerback Ike Taylor for a second consecutive week because of a leg injury. Cortez Allen, his replacement, likely will miss the game because of a groin injury. Allen did not practice all week and is listed as doubtful.
The injuries mean either Victorian or second-year player Curtis Brown will make his first NFL start with Golden or DeMarcus VanDyke playing in the nickel package.
"I don't know if it changes my role, but it magnifies it a little bit," Clark said. "I just need to be deep and be very vocal as far as communicating to those guys and helping them understand what the offense may be trying to do to attack us and what we need to do as a defense in each and every call. For me, it's a situation where I need to be protective of those guys and help them out as much as possible."
Brown, a second-year player from Texas, moved into the role of third cornerback Sunday against the Chargers, but he was ineffective and Victorian replaced him in the second half.
Victorian, signed to the active roster a few days before the Chargers game, appears to be the player defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has identified as his top choice to replace Allen in the starting lineup.
"He made a play, and I thought he knew his assignments well," LeBeau said of Victorian's performance against the Chargers. "We've had him since training camp, and he's always impressed us as a playmaker. I think he'll make a good account of himself in there."
Victorian was signed to the practice squad in August after spending last season on the practice squads of the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. He was with the New Orleans Saints briefly in the spring before being invited to training camp with the Steelers.
"Sunday is a great opportunity not only for me but for our entire young secondary group to show that we can play," said Victorian, who played at Louisiana Tech. "I think it will be great for us."
Golden has been on the active roster longer than Victorian, but he hasn't played a snap on defense all season. Golden, a rookie from the University of Arizona, made the team because of his ability to play cornerback and safety. That versatility is something the coaches would like to utilize against Dallas.
"I just have to be ready for wherever they want to put me in," Golden said. "I can play nickel, I play corner and I also play safety. When they call my number, I just need to be ready to go out there and perform. I feel like I had a great week of preparation. I just want to go out there and play well for the team."
The Cowboys have won three of their past four games to get back into the NFC playoff picture. They made their surge behind a passing attack that is third in the NFL in passing yards per game (292). Romo has thrown seven touchdown passes in the past three games.
Even though his young players don't have a lot of game experience, LeBeau is hopeful they can step in and help the team.
"We try to develop the depth at every position," LeBeau said. "We try to teach these young players like they're going to be starting because we know someday they will be starting. Unfortunately, we have a couple of hits at the same spot this week. Generally speaking, throughout the course of the season this happens, so it's not a surprise that some of these guys will be starting and taking a significant amount of snaps. Hopefully, they'll be prepared and answer the challenge.
"We have some quality depth there. It's a challenge for us. One thing is for sure, they're not going to cancel the game. We think we have a plan. We have some people, and they'll have to step in there and pick it up. The game is still tackling, keying and knocking down passes. We're going to show up. We know we have a challenge, but I feel these young guys will make a good account of themselves."
NOTES -- Outside linebacker James Harrison returned to practice after missing two days with an illness and is listed as probable. ... Three other players missed practice Friday with illnesses -- wide receiver Antonio Brown, inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and long snapper Greg Warren. All three were listed as probable. ... The three players who are out for the game are offensive tackle Mike Adams, offensive guard Willie Colon and cornerback Ike Taylor.
First Published December 15, 2012 12:00 am