Steelers take cornerbacks with back-to-back picks
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When they hired him to be their secondary coach, Carnell Lake was not made any promises the Steelers would seek to significantly upgrade the cornerback position.
But, as the three-day NFL draft concluded Saturday, Lake was glad the Steelers did just that with rare back-to-back selections.
They added another cornerback in the fourth round, Cortez Allen of The Citadel, to go with the corner they selected Friday in the third round -- Curtis Brown of Texas.
How important was the need? It was the first time the Steelers have taken cornerbacks with back-to-back picks since they drafted Lance Brown of Indiana and Barron Miles of Nebraska in the fifth round in 1995.
"I think any time we can strengthen the secondary, it is going to help us tremendously," said Lake, a former four-time Pro Bowl safety with the Steelers who was hired to replace Ray Horton in February. "I think this is a good start for us. I'm hoping that these guys can come in and pick up the system right away. I'm hoping that they can come in and help us right away."
That might be wishful thinking on Lake's part, maybe even a little rookie-coach naiveté.
Rookies rarely come in and contribute immediately in Dick LeBeau's defense. Even safety Troy Polamalu played little, if at all, until the end of his rookie season in 2003, and even then it was only in sub packages.
Brown and Allen hardly qualify as elite picks, certainly not the caliber of Patrick Peterson (fifth overall by the Cardinals) or Prince Amukamara (19th, Giants) -- the top two corners selected in the NFL draft.
But, with a lack of quality depth behind Ike Taylor at cornerback, the Steelers delivered some reinforcements to Lake to hopefully bolster the position.
"You look at who you have and ask, 'Do these guys have the ability to contribute,' and they both did," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "We got them in spots where we thought we may get them. We didn't reach for anyone trying to fill a hole. We got guys we thought could compete and contribute and we hope both of them can do that."
Brown, one of three Texas cornerbacks selected in the first five rounds, has the best chance to contribute right away, if only in the nickel defense.
The Steelers considered him to be a better cover corner than his more heralded teammate, Aaron Williams, who was drafted with the 34th overall pick by the Buffalo Bills.
Brown had just two interceptions in his Longhorns career -- one for 77 yards, the other for 74 -- and only five pass break-ups as a senior. But Lake said that's because opposing teams did not throw in his direction.
"I didn't see too many balls," said Brown, who is 5 feet 11, 185 pounds. "I didn't get a ball [thrown my way] until my sixth game in the season. I just really didn't get thrown at. I didn't have too many opportunities."
Asked about Lake's assessment, Brown added, "I'm going to take that and say I was the best covering corner at Texas."
He won't have to worry about balls being thrown in his direction with the Steelers, should he get some playing time. Bryant McFadden and William Gay repeatedly were picked on by opposing quarterbacks, especially in the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers, yet managed only two interceptions all season (both by McFadden).
"I think the team picked on his teammates more than himself," Lake said. "When you look at it, they just didn't throw a lot his way, and I thought that was because his coverage skills were better. He's probably able to contribute faster because he's more developed than his teammates. Overall, he'll help us, especially, on third down."
The same can't be said of Allen, who comes from a smaller school and has been playing football for only five years. He will need at least a year of development before he will be able to contribute in some form.
Still, the Steelers really like his upside potential because he is big (6-1, 197), physical and can run. Allen had five career interceptions at The Citadel, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
"The Citadel is not a football factory," Lake said. "A lot of the work that he gets is very limited in terms of football. I asked him when he came to visit us, 'How much time do you get to work on your craft?' He said, 'I don't get a lot of time because I have to do The Citadel stuff.'
"So I said, this guy is really playing well, and he's not working on his craft that much because of his limited time. If he can spend a lot of time working on his craft, I see a lot of upside for him. I think that is one of the reasons why we selected him."
Lake is glad they did.
First Published May 1, 2011 12:00 am