By Matthew Marczi
Every summer, teams all around the league come into training camp with questions looking to be answered. The Pittsburgh Steelers are no different. The same can be said for individual players. Yesterday, we talked about Adrian Robinson looking to break free of the “one-trick pony” tag. Another young player looking to shake the stereotype is third year cornerback Curtis Brown.
Drafted in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Curtis Brown entered the league a round ahead of draft classmate Cortez Allen. Two years later, Allen is a virtual lock to start opposite veteran Ike Taylor, while Brown is still searching for an identity—and a role—on defense.
It is always said of rookies that they must first cut their teeth on special teams, and there is no denying that Brown has been able to do that—and at a high level—during his first two years in the league.
As a rookie in 2011, Brown recorded 14 tackles on special teams, including 11 solo, and also forced a fumble in 12 games before suffering an injury that cut his first season short. Last year, playing in 15 games, he registered 17 special teams tackles, with 13 solo.
That is all well and good, of course, and his special teams play will continue to be essential not only to his future on the team, but also to the present success of the team’s special teams unit under new special teams coach Danny Smith.
What is not all well and good, however, is a third round prospect well into his second season performing at a level that merits being pulled in favor of an undrafted free agent who spent the bulk of his first two seasons on and off of practice squads and playing in the Arena Football League.
That is not to say that Josh Victorian is a bad player, by any means; with that said, he probably should never start a game at outside cornerback under normal circumstances again.
Victorian was promoted from the practice squad following Taylor’s leg injury in the Week 13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. With that injury, Brown was promoted as the third corner, and saw a then-career high 16 snaps.
The following week against the San Diego Chargers, he played 26 snaps before finally being pulled in favor of Victorian, making his league debut. Before the yank, Brown was targeted six times, allowing six receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown for a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.
All told, Brown saw 84 snaps on defense in eight games. He allowed 11 receptions on 15 targets for 126 yards and a quarterback rating of 120.4, recording two pass deflections.
Even though the Steelers allowed Keenan Lewis to depart in free agency, Brown still finds himself fourth on the depth chart following the return of William Gay. If he hopes to earn more snaps on defense, he must instill confidence not only in his coaches, but in himself, because he appears to be a player that gets down on himself such that it affects his play. For the cornerback position, that is bad news.
Many within the Steelers organization, it seems, are quite interested in the progress and development of Brown as he enters his third season. He finally got some quality snaps on defense as a second-year player last year, even if it did not turn out as well as hoped. Now the hope is that he can build upon that and expand his resume beyond special teams.
During the first practice of camp, Will Graves of the Associated Press Tweeted about an exchange between Brown and head coach Mike Tomlin. Brown was just beaten on a play, and Tomlin swiftly quipped, "don\'t let them get behind you, they get behind you, we\'re talking about gunner".
Idle jabs during a scrimmage, perhaps, but there tends to be a layer of truth under Tomlin’s barbs. Last year, Tomlin joked with Ryan Clark that they would draft a free safety next year, and in comes Shamarko Thomas.
While Clark may not have to worry about losing much playing time to Thomas during the 2013 season, Brown should certainly concern himself with breaking the stereotype of being just a gunner on special teams this year.