We wanted cornerbacks, we got cornerbacks as the Steelers drafted Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the 2011 NFL Draft. Now that the draft is complete, it is time to take an early look at the cornerback situation as it stands today. The Steelers kept 6 corners on the active roster in 2010 and may be forced to keep as many as 7 this year depending on how free agency pans out and how fast the rookies develop.
Here is the Steelers cornerback situation as we know it today under new defensive backs coach Carnell Lake.
RCB Ike Taylor – Taylor, as many know, is an unrestricted free agent and there has been some recent talk about how other teams might have interest in signing him whenever free agency opens. Post Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette blogged this evening that he heard this weekend that the Steelers are convinced they will re-sign Taylor by the time the smoke clears. That is indeed good news if it happens because despite the Steelers drafting Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen this weekend, it will take them time at least a season to get their feet planted firmly in the ground. The longer the lockout last, the slower their development will be in addition as rookies need the OTA sessions so their heads are only slightly spinning by the time training camp opens. The Steelers need Taylor and he also wants to end his career in Pittsburgh. Keep your fingers crossed he is indeed re-signed.
LCB Bryant McFadden – McFadden is still under contract for two more years and almost certainly will be an opening day starter at left cornerback. McFadden was dinged up quite a bit in 2010 and did not have his best season as quarterbacks were not afraid to throw his direction, especially underneath in zone coverages. McFadden is still a pretty reliable tackler though and good about not allowing too many yards after the catch. Depending on the progress of the young cornerbacks on the team, this could likely be his last season with the Steelers depending on his play.
NCB William Gay – Gay too is a free agent this offseason, but his status of whether he is restricted or unrestricted will be decided when and if a new CBA is reached. The Steelers tendered him a one year deal as if he will be deemed restricted, so there is still a chance that he will be back. That is not necessarily a bad thing despite his up and down history. Gay is experienced in the nickel and can play the outside spot in a pinch. The Steelers need experience on the field while they slowly ease in the young corners. If he stays, Gay will see some camp competition from second year corner Crezdon Butler and rookie 3rd round draft pick Curtis Brown depending on how fast he develops. At worst, Gay becomes the 6th defensive back on the field when teams try to use four receiver sets against the Steelers to spread them out. If he is deemed unrestricted, the Steelers will not fight hard for his services unless Taylor does not re-sign.
LCB Keenan Lewis – If Lewis watched the draft this weekend, he has to be worried. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and has yet to show any signs of progress in his limited time on the field. He is an outside corner that might be better looked at as a back up free safety if he does not turn the proverbial corner this summer. With the addition of Brown and Allen this weekend, he clearly could be in for a dog fight for a roster spot. It will be interesting if he gets any time at free safety instead as I do not think he is fit to play outside cornerback in the NFL. If he makes the roster, he might be looking at an early season dime role or the left side backup to McFadden. If the Steelers end up losing both Taylor and Gay, he could be forced into an outside starting spot until Brown or Allen are up to speed. Let\’s hope it does not come to that though.
CB Crezdon Butler – Butler did not get any regular season defensive snaps his rookie season and now will be pushed by Brown and Allen. He will likely get multiple looks inside and outside during camp and hopefully makes an impact. He is such a wild card right now, because the only time we have seen him play defense was during the preseason. He could be ready to take the nickel job away from Gay as well. We will know quite a bit more on the role the Steelers have for him when and if OTA sessions get rolling. He could be primed for a move to safety as well.
NCB Curtis Brown – Brown has the best chance at seeing the field as a nickel corner depending on how fast he progresses. If rookie OTA sessions continue to be delayed because of the lockout, it will slow his development right off the bat. The Dick LeBeau system is not an easy one to learn and he needs the early summer sessions dearly. He can play both inside and outside, but like most Steelers rookie corners, he will need to show he can play in the slot first. As a 3rd round pick he is a near lock to make the roster and will be expected to earn his stripes on special teams. He quickly fills the spot that Madison is vacating.
CB Cortez Allen – Allen is raw because of lack of time he has had to hone his craft due to his duties at the Citadel. That is not necessarily a bad thing as there will be less bad habits he likely will have to break. Like fellow rookie Brown though, he needs the OTA sessions to get acclimated as fast as possible. He projects as an outside corner with the Steelers and is a candidate to be an early season inactive player on the 53 man roster.
DB Anthony Madison – Madison too is an unrestricted free agent and the drafting of Brown and Allen signals that there is no chance that he will be re-signed. Madison played just under 150 snaps on defense in 2010 mostly in a reserve nickel role an occasional dime situations. While Madison is highly regarded for his special teams play, it will not be enough to get him back to Latrobe.
DB Tuff Harris – Harris was signed back to the offseason roster after the season ended and is just a camp body and will not make it out of training camp. Harris is more of a dime, safety type instead of a cornerback.
CB Donovan Warren – Warren was signed to the offseason roster after spending some time with the Jets last training camp. He went undrafted in 2010 and is more of a candidate to get a look at free safety instead of cornerback because of his speed. It is his best and only shot at making the Steelers roster. He is not a NFL cornerback.