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Steelers' young cornerbacks learning lessons the hard way

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Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Eagles' Mardy Gilyard beats the Steelers' Curtis Brown for a third quarter touchsown at Lincoln Financial Field Aug. 9, 2012.

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Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, 11:42 p.m.
 

PHILADELPHIA — Steelers cornerback Curtis Brown was surprisingly upbeat as he stood alone Thursday night near his locker inside Lincoln Financial Field.

Brown's head was up and his spirits high moments after surrendering 70- and 44-yard touchdown passes on consecutive plays in the third quarter of the Steelers' 24-23 defeat in their exhibition opener. It was baptism under fire for a second-year defensive back auditioning for the starting job opposite veteran Ike Taylor.

“Those were physical, not necessarily mental (mistakes),” coach Mike Tomlin said. “(Brown) was there to make a play on (the ball). He's just got to make a play on it. On another one, we had the quarterback in the backfield, and we just left our feet, which allowed him to get out of the pocket and create space and time, and our coverage broke down.”

Despite the lapses in concentration, Brown didn't pout. He seemed eager to get back to work Saturday at St. Vincent College to prepare for Indianapolis on Aug. 19 at Heinz Field.

“If you let something like this get to you, then you're not fit for this game,” Brown said. “All I can do is evaluate myself and fix my mistake. ... It's all fixable.”

Brown, with defensive backs coach Carnell Lake grading the highs and lows of an uneven performance, couldn't afford to beat himself up. After all, no one would let him.

“We don't have time for pointing fingers, and (Brown) can't feel sorry for himself,” said Taylor, who played sparingly before being relieved by Brown. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for you in this game.”

Brown and Cortez Allen, the Steelers' third- and fourth-round picks, respectively, in the 2011 NFL Draft, were schooled by a promising corps of young Philadelphia receivers who amassed 280 receiving yards, three touchdowns and 13 first-down catches. The lessons were less about technique than about willingness to overcome adversity.

Both flunked an early exam when the Eagles deployed two receivers to the strong side of the formation. While quarterback Nick Foles was eluding a pass rush, the cornerbacks lost sight of rookie receiver Damaris Johnson, who gathered in a floater for the 70-yard score.

If Brown and Allen are to challenge Keenan Lewis for the corner spot left vacant by William Gay's departure, they'll also need to be more consistent against the run.

At times they were caught out of position after Philadelphia's running backs turned up field. Or they struggled to shed blockers, as Brown did when receiver Marvin McNutt tied him up to spring Bryce Brown for a 33-yard gain after the Eagles had taken a 14-13 lead.

Brown seemed to be ready on the next snap. He blanketed receiver Mardy Gilyard but failed to dislodge the ball as the two wrestled for possession near the goal line on the 44-yard scoring play.

“I should have looked up,” Brown said. “I had him covered pretty well, but I just didn't take my eyes to the sky. Those are things that can be fixed in practice.

“The other play, I just fell. If you can't stay on your feet, those things will happen. It's a preseason game to see where I'm at, but I need to continue to work on my technique.”

Tomlin said errors are sometimes critical in terms of the outcome but added they can be good lessons learned.

“They have to learn on their own,” Taylor said. “I can only tell them so much. They have to understand things happen. Whether it's a mental lapse, you have to go through some adversity. They have to experience it in games, the trials and errors.”

Safety Troy Polamalu is confident the Steelers' second-year cornerbacks will be ready when the regular season begins on Sept. 9 in Denver.

“This is what the preseason is for, but it's time for us to get better,” he said. “You try not to lose your confidence. You can tell there was a little pressure, a little more panic when you're in game mode.

“It'll come with time and experience. We've all given up plays. It's better to do it now.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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