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Young corners learn on the fly with Steelers

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen (left) breaks up a pass intended for Jerricho Cotchery during practice on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, on the South Side. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Steelers reciever Antonio Brown pulls in a pass infront of Curtis Brown during practice at St. Vincent College Aug. 2, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Curtis Brown during OTAs on the South Side May 24, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Curtis Brown considers himself a documentary freak, especially when it is anything regarding the Mayans and the 2012 phenomenon.

Brown doesn't believe the end of the world is coming, but he believes 2012 could be the beginning of a new age … for the Steelers' secondary.

The Steelers used consecutive picks in last year's draft on cornerbacks, selecting Brown in the third round and Cortez Allen in the fourth, with the idea that they might eventually solidify what has long been viewed as the defense's biggest weakness.

A year later, Allen and Brown have put together two solid weeks of training camp, and have legitimate shots of being in the starting lineup when the Steelers open the season Sept. 9 in Denver. That comes with a caveat — they need to stay healthy.

Both missed large portions of camp as rookies with hamstring injuries that stunted their development. Allen played some snaps last year, particularly during the 25-18 win over New England in Week 8, but Brown was relegated to special teams before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve late in the year.

For Brown, the injury bug was something new.

“I was hurt before, sure, but not that bad that had me miss that much practice,” Brown said. “Last year was difficult for me.”

Allen feels the same way.

“It is very important for me to stay healthy,” Allen said.

Brown (6-foot, 185) is pushing Keenan Lewis for the starting left cornerback position, and Allen (6-1, 196) has been the first-team nickel back since the spring.

Both have been impressive, especially Allen, who had a spectacular downfield interception during a two-minute drill last week.

“He knows what it takes, and he wants it,” veteran cornerback Ike Taylor said of Allen. “He wants to get better. The good thing I like about Cortez is he doesn't say much, he comes to work and he does what he needs to do.”

Taylor also said, “This dude could be way better than me — if he can stay healthy.”

Allen never played nickel at The Citadel, and was introduced to it during the offseason because of need after William Gay signed with Arizona. The nickel in Dick LeBeau's defense plays about 50 percent of the snaps, so it's viewed as an important position to the Steelers.

“You have a lot to learn as far as what everybody else is doing,” Allen said. “There are different ways to play to put yourself in better positions. I learned a lot of that from Troy (Polamalu) as far the way he cheats the system as far as him making plays.”

Brown has more of an uphill battle to supplant Lewis, who replaced Gay at left corner in the nickel last year.

Brown turned heads on special teams by leading the team in tackles before getting injured, but he's yet to play a defensive snap in the league.

“Keenan and Cortez had snaps last year, I didn't,” said Brown, who also has been working at nickel. “So my competition is with myself trying to get better so that when my name is called I will be able to perform.”

The first opportunity will come Thursday during the Steelers' first preseason game at Philadelphia.

“Every game is important,” Allen said. “It is a good chance for us to utilize the stuff we have been working on during training camp.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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