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Steelers cornerback Lewis sees chance

| Friday, May 25, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
The Steelers' Keenan Lewis during OTAs on the South Side on May 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers defensive back coach Carnell Lake watches cornerback Keenan Lewis during OTAs on the South Side on May 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Keenan Lewis during OTAs on the South Side May 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Keenan Lewis during OTAs on the South Side on May 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

You can count Keenan Lewis' NFL starts on one finger.

And if not for the Steelers starting last year's Sunday night game in Indianapolis with three defensive backs, he wouldn't even have that on his resume.

But what Lewis lacks in experience, he makes up for with bravado.

Three days into organized team activities, Lewis isn't talking about competing with second-year players Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown for the left cornerback position. Keenan Lewis is talking Pro Bowl.

“Pro Bowl and help my team win the Super Bowl,” Lewis said after being asked what he expects from himself this year. “That's where I am going. I am going to be there.”

No Steelers cornerback has made the Pro Bowl since Rod Woodson in 1997. Before that, you have to go back to 1982 when Mel Blount made the last of his five appearances. Woodson and Blount went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lewis has one career interception.

“I am expecting a whole lot out of Keenan Lewis,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “Around here, the expectations are sky high for him.”

The Steelers released Bryant McFadden during the offseason and weren't interested in bringing back free agent William Gay. Instead, they were comfortable giving Lewis every opportunity of securing the starting job while having options behind him in Brown and Allen.

However, Lewis doesn't plan to relinquish the starting job.

“I can't let them take it,” Lewis said. “Like I told you, I am going to the Pro Bowl, so I have to be out there.”

Lewis, who is heading into his fourth year, signed a restricted free-agent tender in April that will pay him $1.26 million for the upcoming season. Lewis will be an unrestricted free agent next year, making this year even more important for him.

“This year is huge for me,” Lewis said. “I have a contract coming up and I have the opportunity to start. I am the starter, and I am taking it one day at a time trying to get better.”

Lewis was drafted in the third round out of Oregon State in 2009. After a rookie season in which he rarely saw the field, Lewis showed promise during training camp two years ago that earned him a preseason start in Denver. After getting called for two personal foul calls in the first half, Lewis was benched. He then entered coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse after the game when Lewis broke a glass-encased sign heading to the locker room.

Lewis made the team but was inactive for four of the first five games and was relegated to 43 total defensive snaps the entire year. Last year, Lewis was a key ingredient in the Steelers' top-ranked passing defense. Lewis played cornerback as Gay pushed over to nickel back during their sub-package defenses. Lewis played more than 400 snaps despite being credited with only one start.

“Last year helped out a lot, but I considered that more of a free-style kind of playing,” Lewis said. “We would usually just go man-to-man. Now, I am trying to see what the linebackers are going to be at so I can get some steals.”

Steals means interceptions, and that's something the Steelers struggled with a year ago. They picked off only 11 passes (Green Bay led league with 31), with their cornerbacks contributing only five.

“I am out here working, but I am really trying to get my mind prepared,” Lewis said. “That's why I am out here talking to guys like Troy (Polamalu) and Ryan (Clark). They are helping me out telling me where I need to be and how to get better.”

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