Thursday, March 29, 2012

Keenan Lewis Will Have To Battle For Cornerback Position

It was thought by many that, in the event that he decided to sign somewhere else, William Gay's departure from Pittsburgh would inevitably give Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis a prime opportunity to step into the favorite's role as starter.

Up until Tuesday that still seemed to be the case. That is until Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told the press around him at the NFL Meetings in Palm Beach, Florida that something else should be expected.

"We're going to give all those men an opportunity to earn the position", Tomlin said.

Those men are Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown who it seems will battle for the starting cornerback position opposite Ike Taylor. Though Lewis will go into offseason practices with the slight edge because he's been in the Steelers' system longer, this is nonetheless a little different from what many suspected would be the case.

But it might just be that this was precipitated by Lewis himself.

Lewis has had a bit of a roller coaster-like career in his first three seasons with the Steelers. Drafted in the third round out of Oregon State in 2009, Lewis was considered to be a possible early contributor for the Steelers. Unfortunately for Lewis, inconsistent play, injuries, and his own negative attitude all got in the way of his emerging as a starter or starter-in-waiting for the Steelers.

In 2009, Lewis sustained a back injury which hindered any real progress and limited him to a total of just four games his rookie season.

In 2010, Lewis was expected to turn the corner and start contributing at a higher level. He played in only nine games and blew his biggest chance to earn more playing time in a preseason game in Denver. With Bryant McFadden sidelined due to injury, Lewis played badly, committed idiotic penalties, and even attacked a defenseless mirror in the locker room after the game. Tomlin and the coaching staff relegated him to special teams the majority of the rest of the year.

Lewis' window of opportunity seemed to be almost closed heading into 2011. He faced what looked like stiff competition from both Crezdon Butler and Donovan Warren, but was eventually able to fight both of them off and make the 53-man roster.

Now he'll be battling again.

Usually, the biggest jump is from the first season into the second, but with Lewis it took until the third before appreciable maturation was seen. Now he has nipping at his heels two promising young cornerbacks who want the position as much as he does. One of whom, Allen, saw the field on defense quite often in the second half of the season as he was in on a lot of Nickel and Dime packages.

So, just as things begin to click for Lewis and he plays the best football of his young career, he finds himself now fighting for the job for which he should've been the front runner.

Overall, this is neither a negative thing for the Steelers, healthy competition edifies and solidifies, nor for Lewis. Because of his play in 2011 he's laid a solid foundation to be built upon going into 2012.

Again, that experience and emergence should be the fuel he needs to give him a slight edge for the position over his competitors. If he wants it badly enough and is willing to fight for it.