By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — The careers of cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen have been intertwined since they were selected in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2011 NFL Draft.
Due to injuries and attrition, the two have had some opportunities for playing time in the Steelers secondary, but neither have been able to stay on the field due to their own injuries. Once healthy, Allen eventually surpassed Brown on the depth chart and played well enough that the Steelers were set to make him their fourth season-opening starter at left cornerback in the past four seasons.
While that could still hold true, Allen is back on the sideline with a right knee injury that was discovered after just the first day of training camp. Allen had surgery on the knee Friday, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expected him to miss just a couple more weeks. But training camp will be over by then, and the preseason games will be under way.
“I don’t know,” starting right cornerback Ike Taylor said when asked if it would be a setback for Allen. “Time will tell. He’s missing all these reps in training camp, getting a feel for playing with the guys, getting into a good rhythm, going with the flow and building confidence, every play and every snap.
“It’s going to be tough. You can’t ever get these reps back from camp, but I’ve got confidence in him. And Curtis Brown is doing pretty good. He’s playing with a lot more confidence. So, hopefully, Cortez can come back healthy. And that will just bring some more depth to the secondary.”
Taylor might be exaggerating Brown’s play just a bit. Pretty good doesn’t describe it, from what he has shown so far in camp. Average to below the line is more the case. Will Gay was brought back from Arizona because the Steelers don’t believe Brown can get the job done.
Gay has replaced Allen as the left cornerback in the base defense, but when the Steelers bring in an additional corner he moves inside and Brown plays outside. That’s because Brown couldn’t handle the inside coverage last year. Allen eventually moved to the slot, and Brown played outside.
“My things for this training camp are to just get better as an individual,” Gay said. “If everyone does that, then, once the season comes around, we’ll be better as a unit. I don’t want to be the person that lets the team down, so I have to make sure I have my technique together.
“My skill level has to be up to par with what it was last year, and I want to try to see if I can bring something a little extra to the table here. As far as Curtis goes, I think he’s ready to go. I tell him to just let it loose. He knows the playbook, and now he needs to showcase his talent.”
Allen is one of three cornerbacks who have been on the sideline nearly the entire camp, while veteran backup Justin King already was lost for the season in the spring. DeMarcus Van Dyke has a serious hamstring injury, according to Tomlin, and Terry Hawthorne had issues with his right knee that had surgery and caused him to miss spring practices. Brown left practice Friday night with an ice bag on his sore left hamstring, so his status was unknown for Saturday’s practice. Hawthorne was a fifth-round pick this year.
“It’s just good to get more reps of any kind, getting familiar with the play calls and then taking advantage of the time that I get,” Brown said. “I need to get comfortable with the defense and do more note-taking and getting into my playbook to be more comfortable with the defense so I can go out there and be free to not have to think about everything all the time.
“I came into this camp with a lot of pressure on my back to show that I can play in this defense, so I’m doing the same thing now. I just want to go out there and do everything that I can to make myself valuable to this team. (And) just taking snaps every day is going to make me better, and that’s all I’m trying to do. I want to get better every day and try to make this a better team.”
That’s why the Steelers brought in two more cornerbacks this week. They signed former Pitt speedster Buddy Jackson, who has been in several NFL camps the past couple years. And they also signed former Furman star Ryan Steed. Other cornerbacks on the roster include Josh Victorian, who was pressed into game action last season, and Isaiah Green. Victorian and Van Dyke played at Dallas due to injuries in the secondary.
Green is an undrafted free agent who spent time with the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. He reportedly was timed at 4.29 in the 40-yard dash at Fresno State. Former teammate Chris Carter confirmed that figure. Steed also was an undrafted free agent who was with the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints. Jackson most recently was with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Note: The Steelers will wear their 1934 “throwback” uniforms when they play host to the Detroit Lions Nov. 17 at Heinz Field. The Steelers also wore the “bumblebee-styled” jersey for two games last season against the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.