By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — At 6-feet tall and 208 pounds with long arms and blazing speed, Keenan Lewis certainly looks the part for an NFL cornerback.
But something’s been missing since the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the third round from Oregon State in 2009. He played in just four games and made one tackle as a rookie that year before being put on the reserve-injured list late in the season.
This past season, Lewis played in nine games and tallied 11 tackles, including eight solo, with one forced fumble. It’s one thing to fritter away an opportunity, but Lewis didn’t even dress for every game let alone play in that many contests and he was at it again early in training camp this year at Saint Vincent College.
After the first practice, Lewis missed the next two. He returned one day and then was back with the walking wounded. A heat-related illness was blamed for his initial time on the sideline, and migraine headaches were to blame for the second trip to the bench.
“I feel decent now, but I had some bad migraine headaches,” Lewis said. “I never had anything like that before in my life, so I really don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. But I feel a little better now.”
Secondary coach Carnell Lake is in his first season at that position with the team that drafted him in the second round in 1989. He played 10 seasons with the Steelers, one with Jacksonville and one final year with the Baltimore Ravens.
Lake knows what it takes to get the job done in the NFL.
“Keenan’s got a lot of talent, and it’s up to us to bring that out of him,” Lake said. “But we can only teach him so much…
He still has to come out and perform. So far in camp, he’s had trouble staying on the field.”
Among the cornerbacks out of the lineup early on were Lewis, rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, veteran Bryant McFadden and second-year player Crezdon Butler. The Steelers also agreed to terms with Ike Taylor and William Gay, but they could not practice the first week.
So Lake had to go with several undrafted free agents. And another golden opportunity for Lewis passed him by about as quickly as it surfaced.
“I’m just working hard to get back on the field and get better every day,” Lewis said. “That’s all I can control. (But) I’m in my third year with the Steelers, and I know more about the offense than I ever have.
“You get to know your teammates and how they play, things like that. An you know what to expect from each player when you get out there. So, that’s a big bonus for me in my third season.”
Lewis believed that being coached by Lake, someone who actually played in the league and has been successful.
“It’s great to work with Coach Lake,” Lewis said. “He’s a terrific coach, tall and rangy, just like me, and I can learn a lot from him about technique and things like that. He knows this system and how to play Steelers football. So, I couldn’t have a better coach.”
The Steelers are practicing this afternoon, but intermittent rains that are heavy at times could threatening to move the workout. The Steelers are off Sunday and return Monday for game-week preparations for the first preseason game Aug. 12 at the Washington Redskins.