The Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Latrobe on Friday for the start of their 2013 training camp, so we will continue to look at the training camp battles that will take place with a look at the battle for a few backup cornerback spots on the 53 man roster. You can comment on this battle below and make sure to vote in the attached poll.
Training Camp Battle Setup: The Steelers already have four cornerbacks that we know will make the 53 man roster as Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay and Curtis Brown are locks. The team will keep either five or six cornerbacks in total out of training camp and in reality, there are only three players competing for those spots, and they are: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Josh Victorian and Terry Hawthorne.
DeMarcus Van Dyke – Van Dyke arrived in Pittsburgh right before the start of the 2012 season after he was released by the Oakland Raiders during their final round of roster cuts. The former third-round draft pick had a rough start to his career in Oakland as he was thrown into the fire as a starter almost immediately. The Steelers had scouted Van Dyke pretty hard leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, so head coach Mike Tomlin and defensive backs coach Carnell Lake wasted no time in claiming him off of waivers.
Being as he missed all of training camp last year, Van Dyke was way behind in learning the defense and as a result was relegated to playing special teams. After a strong start to the season on the punt coverage team, Van Dyke found himself in the dog house after registering five special teams penalties over the course of the next four games.
Due to injuries at the cornerback position later in the year, Van Dyke was allowed to dress again, and he would have likely seen a little playing time on defense in the game against the Dallas Cowboys had he not suffered a shoulder injury early while covering a kick. That injury ended his season.
Van Dyke will now have a full offseason with the Steelers and he will be reunited with Rod Woodson, who was his first defensive backs coach with the Raiders. Working with Lake and Woodson, who is interning this year as a coach, will certainly help the speedster out of Miami, who has the ideal length to play outside. Van Dyke must prove that he still has upside, and that he is no longer a liability on special teams if he is going to make the 2013 roster. It is a make-or-break year for him as he is out of practice squad eligibility.
Josh Victorian – Victorian did not arrive in Pittsburgh until after training camp started last season as an injury to Terry Carter opened up a spot on the 90 man roster for him. The Louisiana Tech product caught on quickly and made enough plays during the preseason that the Steelers decided to sign him to the practice squad to start the 2012 season.
Due to the aforementioned injuries that the Steelers had late in the season at the cornerback position in 2012, Victorian found himself on the Steelers 53 man roster for the Week 14 game against the San Diego Chargers. When Brown struggled in that game, Victorian mopped it up to the tune of four plays, but was beat for a touchdown in the end zone by Chargers wide receiver Danario Alexander on one of them.
The following week against the Cowboys, Victorian was given the opportunity to start opposite Lewis, and he allowed six catches for 73 yards in that game. He also saw a considerable amount of playing time in the remaining two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns and ended the season with 11 catches allowed for 131 yards with four passes defensed.
One of the drawbacks for Victorian is that he is a bit undersized to play outside at 5\’10″, however, the game experience that received in 2012 certainly will help him this year in training camp. Like Van Dyke, Victorian has to prove he can make a difference on special teams if he is going to make the roster out of training camp. Should he not win a roster spot, he will be a prime candidate for the practice squad once again.
Terry Hawthorne – Hawthorne was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Illinois, but a knee injury that required a surgical procedure forced him to miss nearly all the offseason practices.
Last spring, Hawthorne was touted as a college player who could possibly be one of the top cornerbacks in the draft, but injuries along with uneven play during the 2012 season dropped him down the draft board.
Missing all the offseason won\’t help Hawthorne\’s cause, but the fact that he was a draft pick who has good measurables might be enough for him to make the 53 man roster out of training camp, if he catches up quickly and plays well during the preseason.
At worst, Hawthorne will be a candidate for the practice squad should the team decide to keep both Van Dyke and Victorian instead. Like the other young drafted cornerbacks that have come before him, Victorian needs a lot of development early on in his career.
Prediction: I have a feeling that the Steelers aren\’t ready to give up on Van Dyke just yet, but I will admit that he needs to show quite a bit during the preseason. He has the size and the speed needed to play in the NFL, but his technique needs a lot of work, and he needs to become more physical in addition. Being that Gay will likely serve as an emergency fifth safety in 2013, I can see the Steelers keeping six cornerbacks in total, so that leaves Victorian and Hawthorne to do battle for one more spot, which I think will go to Hawthorne. Victorian, should he make the Steelers 53 man roster out of training camp, would be the first former undrafted free agent cornerback to accomplish that feat out of training camp in several years.