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Steelers Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

July 29, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

July 29, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is Part 4 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

The final defensive position to look at is cornerback.

If we look at Mike Tomlin’s history as head coach, we see that he has always come out of training camp with 6 cornerbacks on the roster.  Five of those cornerbacks were usually worked into the actual defensive rotation, while  one was kept strictly as a special teams player.

In 2007, Allen Rossum was listed as a cornerback, but he never actually lined up at the position.  He was exclusively a return man on special teams.  In 2008, Anthony Madison played a similar role.  While he didn’t return punts or kickoffs, he was nevertheless relegated to special teams play only.

With that in mind, let’s assume that the Steelers will come out of this year’s training camp with 6 cornerbacks, one of whom will be primarily a special teams player.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s take a look at the candidates and determine who is likely to make the 53-man roster.

Ike Taylor - I absolutely love Ike Taylor.  I think he is possibly the most under-rated cornerback in the entire NFL.  Every week he has to face the opposition’s #1 receiver, and yet how often does he get burned?  Not very.

Last season Ike had to go against Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress, Chad Johnson, Andre Johnson, Braylon Edwards, and Larry Fitzgerald.  None of those receivers came out on the winning side of that match-up.  Ike just doesn’t get beat.  Period.

The only reason that Ike isn’t a multi-time Pro Bowler is that Ike’s hands have a permanent coating of the world’s most powerful lubricant.  Ike just can’t catch.  And unfortunately, cornerbacks tend to be judged based on their interceptions, not their passes defensed.

Ike Taylor

I guess Ike will just have to be satisfied collecting Super Bowl rings rather than Pro Bowl appearances.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that Ike is going to make the team.

William Gay - Bryant McFadden departed after the Super Bowl to play for the Steelers West.  However, the impact of his departure will barely be felt due to the presence of William Gay. Gay was already splitting time with McFadden, so replacing him full-time should be relatively easy.

Gay’s place on the roster is assured.  Nevertheless, I still haven’t forgiven him for wearing Arizona Cardinals colors and a NY Yankees cap to the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory parade.  What was up with that?

Deshea Townsend - If memory serves me correctly, when Deshea Townsend joined the Steelers, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, and J.T. Thomas were still on the team.  I could be wrong, but it certainly seems like he has been on the team that long.

Now 34 years old, and in his 12th year in the NFL, Townsend is almost guaranteed to emerge from training camp as no worse than the #4 cornerback on the roster.

If Townsend were to learn to play the free safety position, he could make himself even more valuable to the Steelers and extend his career even more.  I’ve always said that Deshea’s skills were perfect for playing free safety.

Keenan Lewis - The third round pick out of Oregon State is almost a mirror image of Ike Taylor.  While he doesn’t have Taylor’s superhuman athleticism,  he does have his long, lean build.

Lewis’ skills are going to need honing, but with wide receivers getting bigger and bigger, his size is a valuable asset.  If he can show a grasp of Dick LeBeau’s playbook, and prove that he is a willing participant in run support, he should be able to snag a spot on the roster.

Keiwan Ratliff - Ratliff was signed this off-season as a free agent from the Indianapolis Colts.  Ratliff brings experience to a team that can use another dependable veteran in the defensive backfield.

While Ratliff has return skills, I believe that Joe Burnett, Mike Wallace, and Stefan Logans are going to be given first crack at winning the return positions.  Thus, Ratliff is going to have to make the team based purely on his skills as a cornerback.  I’m betting that he is going to do exactly that.

Roy Lewis - After spending 2008 on the practice squad, Lewis should be ready to compete for a roster spot in 2009.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that his knowledge of the Steelers’ playbook is going to be enough to offset his height disadvantage versus Keenan Lewis, his experience disadvantage versus Keiwan Ratliff, or the return capabilities of Joe Burnett.  Sorry Roy.  It was nice knowing you.

Anthony Madison - Madison always enters Steelers training camp as an underdog.  Yet somehow he always seems to stick around.  He will enter training camp as an underdog again this year.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he is going to be able to hold off newcomer Keiwan Ratliff.  Ratliff is bigger and more experienced than Madison.

Madison has been used almost exclusively on special teams.  That was fine, because Coach Tomlin always carries a cornerback on the roster exclusively for special teams.  However, this year that position is going to go to……..

Joe Burnett - The fifth round pick out of Central Florida is going to be the 6th cornerback on the Steelers’ 2009 roster.  Burnett is an absolutely electrifying punt returner.  He will add a dimension to the Steelers’ return game that has been missing for a very long time.

While Burnett’s greatest impact will be as a punt returner, he can also return kicks, and has surprisingly good ball skills as a cornerback.  He is UCF’s all-time leader in interceptions.  He is not as physical as the Steelers like their cornerbacks to be, but once he gets sees the priority that Dick LeBeau places on run support, he will have to become more physical.

So there you have it.  I believe that Ike Taylor, William Gay, Keiwan Ratliff, Deshea Townsend, and Keenan Lewis will be the Steelers 5 cornerbacks, and Joe Burnett will earn the 6th position as a punt returner.

So what do you fans think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Your comments are welcome.  Tell me what you agree with or where you think the flaws in my argument are.  Who do you think will be the Steelers’ 6 cornerbacks coming out of training camp?

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17 Comments to “Steelers Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks”

  1. Perhaps Roy Lewis or Deshea can slide to backup free safety and Mundy knocks TC off the roster? Who do we like better, Lewis or Carter?

  2. I agree totally. It would be incredible if 1 of the draft picks actually can get on the field in nickel and dime right away.Lewis could be that guy. I am happy with Gay on the other side of Taylor, but Gay will have to perform VERY well right away because that is where Qb’s are going when it is time to pick on someone in the passing downs.

  3. I like reading these. Keep ‘em coming, please.

  4. Mark S. says:

    I like the idea of sliding Townsend over to safety, but I think he should stay at corner at least until Gay gets established as the starter and the other backups get some experience. If Gay starts to melt down under pressure, Townsend can step up and take over. He is the only corner other than Ike with any real experience right now.

  5. Mark S. says:

    besides Ratliff, I guess… forgot about him. Still gotta learn the D though.

  6. I agree with everything but Ratliff out, Madison in. And I think Roy Lewis will make it at free safety. Bye TC……

  7. Albert,
    I really don’t see any scenario where Tyrone Carter is knocked completely off the roster. I can definitely see it happening next year. But there just isn’t enough experience among the back-ups this year.

  8. Mark S.,
    I wasn’t suggesting that Townsend move exclusively to safety. Rather, I was suggesting that he add safety to his repertoire. After all, Coach Tomlin loves “position flexibility”. If he has one guy who can play cornerback and safety competently, that allows him to use a roster spot for something else.

  9. Dennis,
    Ratliff out, eh? Interesting. And it could happen. Ratliff was the toughest one for me to call. He’s never played in the Steelers’ system, so it is hard to project how he’ll do. He has been in more of a Tampa 2 zone system. I am giving him credit for his experience, but it is experience in a totally different system. In that regard, Madison does have an advantage.

    I’ll tell you what. Let’s make a bet. If Ratliff makes the team, you owe me a quarter, and if Madison makes the team, then I owe you a quarter. Agreed?

  10. i am all for a nasty intimidating defense, this defense takes me back to the mel blount, tony dungy steve furness, ham, lambert shell, i go nuts over defenses like this, its what football is all about,

    as for carter, i don’t see him losing a spot either, he is just too good to not have him on the field. 8/1/09 the season is upon us,,,, to all the steelers fans, come out in droves this season, and lets make away games feel like home games, show support,and your steel!

  11. if I remember correctly, Taylor was beaten several times, and Plexiglass was on the winning side of that matchup. However, I think you have a point that Ike Taylor is really difficult to beat.

  12. David2,
    You are correct. EVERY cornerback gets beat. However, Ike gets beat less than most.

  13. I like the picks just do know if all of them are going to play corner back. I do not see Townsend but the Lewis kid could end up a safety.

  14. Burnett has not shown himself to be sure-handed enough to be a punt returner, and Lewis doesn’t look to be roster-ready. But one of the two will probably make the final 53. I think Taylor, Gay, Ratliff and Townsend are in. I’ll guess they keep Lewis just based on potential. Burnett goes to the practice squad unless they move Lewis to safety. And some other team will likely nab Lewis from the PS.

  15. I meant some other team will likely nab Burnett from the PS.

  16. BH,
    I agree. I wrote this article before the pre-season games, but now that I’ve seen Joe Burnett dropping punts, I think he is a long shot to make the team. They’ll probably put him on the practice squad. Keenan Lewis looked great in training camp, but hasn’t shown much in the preseason. I think they’ll keep him due to potential and size.

  17. PTownSteelTown says:

    I think R. Lewis and Mundy are competing for one backup safety spot, not enough experience at that spot to cut Carter, even with Townsend. Townsend backs up both CB and S but listed at CB, K.Lewis, Burnett make cut on potential, draft picks usually get till year 2 to show their worth, last CB spot Madison vs Ratliff. Decision made easier if either Lewis/Burnett show they can be serviceable this year (keep Madison), or any of the backup CB/S can excel at ST (keep Ratliff)


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