We continue on with our player by player look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Free Agents and do a complete breakdown of their 2011 season and look ahead to their pending 2012 free agency situation. I am focusing on the restricted free agents first and this is the second player in that series. In this free agent analysis we will have a look at cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Player: Keenan Lewis
Experience: 3 Years
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2011 Salary Cap Hit: $685,000.00
2011 Season Breakdown: After playing just 43 lackluster snaps in 2010, Lewis literally and figuratively turned the proverbial corner in 2011. He played just over 400 defensive snaps as an outside corner in the Steelers nickel and dime sub-packages and looked like a more confident and decisive corner for the most part. In the first 10 games of the season Lewis was unofficially thrown at 35 times with 25 completions allowed. He gave up touchdowns in the games against the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots, but despite the high completion percentage, you could see his ability to read and react improve as well as his overall understanding of the defense. After the bye week he was targeted 14 times and allowed just 5 receptions. He also recorded his first career interception against the Kansas City Chiefs to seal the win late in the game.
Lewis did have his moments in 2011 by giving a little too much cushion at times, but the Steelers secondary is mostly one that is predicated on tackling the catch, as they played quite a bit of zone early on in the season. Lewis is showing he is a sure handed tackler as he allowed just 60 unofficial yards after the catch and fared well in press man coverage situations. Being as Lewis was mainly in on passing downs, he hardly was relied on to defend against the run. He did not have much success against the St. Louis Rams in week 16 against the run and was caught inside a few times that allowed some big 3rd down runs to happen. That was just one game however and something I am sure he was scolded on when they broke down the film.
Coverage wise he still has the want to turn and run too soon, but this was not as obvious as it was in his limited snaps in both the preseason and regular season in 2010. He has great closing speed and had a few nice pass breakups in 2011. He also showed good change of direction skills. You can tell he has benefited greatly from new defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and you have to remember that there were no offseason mini-camps or OTA sessions because of the lockout. Lake proved in his one year at UCLA that he could work with younger players and Lewis commented this past season that Lake probably is the best coach he has had in his entire life. The arrow is certainly pointing up right now on the Steelers former 3rd round draft pick as many of us were worried if the light would ever come on.
Lewis once again saw time on special teams in 2011 and was in on 5 tackles but was flagged twice with one of those being a questionable interference with opportunity to catch penalty in the game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Free Agency Outlook: Lewis is a restricted free agent and I expect the Steelers will tender him at the lowest level and that amount is undetermined right now. Last year the low level tender amount was $1.2 million and it should be higher in 2012. There is an outside chance he could be signed to a longer term deal right before the season starts, but right now I would put about a 30% chance on that happening. It is almost certain that Lewis will not get attention from other teams once free agency opens as it would cost them a 3rd round pick to sign him away. Lewis will likely open training camp as the starting left outside corner, but he could face competition from Cortez Allen and even William Gay if he is brought back in 2012. At very worst he should open the season as a sub-package corner. He will benefit greatly from a full offseason program under the watchful eye of Lake and I feel much better about him right now than I did this same time last year.
Other 2012 Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Mike Wallace - Restricted Free Agent
Doug Legursky - Restricted Free Agent
Ramon Foster - Restricted Free Agent
David Johnson - Restricted Free Agent
Ryan Mundy - Restricted Free Agent
Jamon Meredith - Restricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unestricted Free Agent
Max Starks - Unestricted Free Agent
Mewelde Moore - Unestricted Free Agent
Byron Leftwich - Unestricted Free Agent
Charlie Batch - Unestricted Free Agent
Dennis Dixon - Unestricted Free Agent
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