The Steelers will be without cornerback Ike Taylor for what Coach Mike Tomlin categorized as “at least a couple of weeks,” and in his absence rely heavily upon second-year corners Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.
Allen, who stepped in when Taylor was injured against the Ravens, will start this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field, while Brown will get work in some of the defensive sub-packages.
“I thought both guys did a really nice job,” said Tomlin of their performance against the Ravens. “They proved that it wasn’t too big for them. Cortez Allen has played a lot of defensive football for us this year over the course of the season. I was not surprised by his performance.”
While Allen has played in various defensive packages and filled in when needed, Brown has played mainly on special teams and saw his most extensive action on defense last week.
“I was pleased with the defensive contributions of Brown,” said Tomlin. “He has proven to be a very stable and reliable special teams player. It was good to see him get a substantial amount of defensive work, and stand and deliver, particularly on get-off downs. I thought they went after him early on in third-down opportunities and I thought he withstood the challenge.
“He will get many more opportunities to prove that. That’s what the NFL is about. We have some young cornerbacks that we have been excited about. Guys like Cortez Allen, Brown and DeMarcus Van Dyke. They will get an opportunity to show why we are excited about them. The next man will be up and will have an opportunity to put their hand in the pile to show why they can be reasons why we can be successful.”
Allen and Brown both battled with Keenan Lewis for the starting left cornerback job in training camp, which Lewis eventually won, but the competition helped their development and it’s paying off now.
“Both are experienced and can be described as experienced special teams contributors to this point,” said Tomlin. “Cortez took a step in terms of being able to distinguish himself as a defender. He’s grown over the course of the season. I think more than anything, the physical talent has been there. I think he’s grown in terms of awareness and particularly awareness in situational football and being able to put himself in position to make the necessary plays to get us off the field. We understand what comes with his position, particularly in third down situations.
“Curtis is being given an opportunity to show what he’s capable of. He’s continued to work and improve and made some plays for us a week ago and we expect him to do the same. They’re both talented young guys who are continuing to improve and prove that the stage isn’t too big for them.”
Not having Taylor on the field is something new for the Steelers, as he has played in all but three regular season games in his career, those coming in the 2004 season.
“We need them to answer the bell as we continue to push into a territory that we haven’t been in since I’ve been here,” said Tomlin. “You can say a lot of things about Ike, and a lot of positive things, but probably the thing that sticks out the most is his durability and availability. This guy hasn’t missed practices, let alone football games, since I’ve been here. We’re in a unique territory in that regard but we’re not going to make more of a deal out of it than what it is. He’s injured. Injuries are a part of the game. We’re going to work with the healthy ones.”
Tomlin said there is the potential to bring in a defensive back because of the injury to Taylor, more so looking to the future if another injury were to occur. But he wouldn’t rule anything out.
“We potentially could do that and maybe not even necessarily to make a specific move right now but when your lines get thin, you evaluate people for potentially the next injury,” said Tomlin. “We’re open-minded to potentially bringing in a corner or two just to see what’s out there, to see what the short list looks like and see what people are capable of. But at the same time, we may be ridiculously impressed with what we see and we might do something. So, I’m not closing the door on that in any form or fashion.”
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Last week running back Rashard Mendenhall was a game day inactive, with Jonathan Dwyer starting and Isaac Redman spelling him, roles that they will have again this week.
“We don’t intend on doing anything differently in terms of Jonathan (Dwyer) being the guy and of course, (Isaac Redman) supplementing him because Red is capable of distinguishing himself in situational football, short yardage,” said Tomlin. “He’s a good blitz-pickup guy.
“Rashard will get an opportunity to redeem himself, I’m sure, at some point along this journey. That’s the nature of this thing. There’s ebb and flow and opportunities are presented. Obviously, he’s not being given one right now and due to a lot of reasons, most of the reasons not having anything to do with him or the running back position. We’ve got thin lines at a lot of other positions. We carried eight offensive linemen a week ago. We’ve got nicks at the wide receiver position. So, a guy who’s feature runner capable like Rashard who has very little contribution in the special teams game is probably not going to get an opportunity to show much if he’s not the featured runner.”