By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers continued to add depth to their secondary when they selected 6-foot, 195-pound Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne with the 150th overall pick in the fifth round during the 2013 NFL Draft Saturday afternoon.
Hawthorne is the second secondary pick for the Steelers during the third day of the draft, as they also took Syracuse strong safety Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round earlier in the day. This thrilled Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake, although he pretty much kept his emotions in check while addressing the assembled media for the second time on the day.
“What I like about Terry is that he’s got a lot of up-side potential that I see in him,” Lake said. “I think he’s got all the physical tools. He’s big. He’s fast. He doesn’t mind tackling, and he can play press coverage, kind of in the same (mold) as Ike Taylor. … I just like his ability. He’s been productive at Illinois.
“And the things that I’m watching on tape, with some real work, he can be even better. I liked visiting with him. He’s really a good guy to be around the current group of guys that we have. I think he’ll mesh well with them, personality-wise. I spent several hours with him and got a chance to really get to know him, and I think he’s going to be fine in terms of being a teammate with the secondary.”
Hawthorne was an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection in both 2011 and 2012 and had 26 starts in 44 career games for the Fighting Illini, who ranked seventh nationally in total defense and third in pass defense in 2011. He was the defensive MVP in Illinois’ 2011 bowl game, returned two of his six interceptions for touchdowns and also was a solid return man.
Hawthorne has the size, speed and athleticism to be effective in single coverage or coming up to the line to stop a running back. This is the type of player the Steelers covet, so why wasn’t he picked earlier during this draft.
“From my perspective, if there’s anything I could help him with it probably would be his technique,” Lake said. “He maybe got himself a little bit out of position and it probably was due to some of the things that I saw with him that I can help clean up.
“So, that’s kind of where I see the potential in him. He’s really raw right now, so I’d like to hone those skills and really work on those things. … His best asset right now is press, bump and run. (And) he’s a low 4.4 guy in the 40.”
Hawthorne wasn’t certain why he fell into the fifth round.
“Coming into the season, I was one of the top cornerbacks,” Hawthorne said. “I guess my stock just dropped. I don’t really understand how it could have dropped that low to the fifth round. I just thank God and let him control that. (But), of course, I have a chip on my shoulder.
“I thought I was better than the fifth round. Like I said early, it’s really nothing I can control. I just leave it up to God. I loved being (in Pittsburgh) on the visit. They have a great group of coaches. After getting the chance to meet all the coaches, I’m just ready to go. I want to thank (them) for the opportunity.”
Lake also was asked about third-year cornerback Curtis Brown’s progress.
“Well, we’re hoping that Curtis can turn the corner right now,” Lake said. “I have a lot of hope for Curtis. I think he’s got all the physical tools as well. There’s an opportunity for Curtis to come on strong this year, and I think he can do that. … He’s been banged up.
“And he already was banged up last year in training camp early. I didn’t get a chance to work with him in the spring as a rookie (due to the lockout), and then when he got to training camp (last year) he was banged up. So, I’m hoping that during this training camp, this is an opportunity for him to really grow.”
Ike Taylor was spotted in the hallway and appeared to be in tremendous physical condition. Taylor assured Steelers fans that while he wished the team had retained Keenan Lewis, it would be more than all right with Cortez Allen as a starting cornerback.
“Cortez will be da bomb this season,” Taylor said.