Crucial roles await Steelers' Allen, Brown
When the Steelers drafted cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown in back-to-back rounds last year, they were clearly trying to solidify the position for the future.
Well, the future is now.
Ike Taylor will miss his first game in eight years Sunday when the Steelers host San Diego, giving Allen his first career start and opening the door for Brown to see his first extended action in the Steelers' sub-package.
While the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers may view it as a decisive advantage, the Steelers are approaching it as a vital opportunity.
“I think everybody's itching to see what they're going to do anyway,” Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “It's unfortunate with Ike, but those young guys are kind of coming. I know I am for sure interested in how they're going to play.”
Allen has played nearly 50 percent of the defensive snaps this year. The majority of them have come in the slot at nickel back, but he has seen limited action at cornerback — except for last week, when he filled in for the injured Taylor.
Allen will move back to his familiar slot in the nickel, with Brown taking over at cornerback.
“This is something you look forward in doing as a football player with the thoughts of one day being a starter,” Allen said. “This is a good test for me, a big test for me to show that I can handle the job. I am ready for this. I am confident.”
Allen was picked on by Baltimore last week, and he had varying degrees of success. He was targeted 12 times and had three pass defenses, but he allowed six catches for 89 yards and a touchdown and was hit with a pass interference penalty.
Brown might be who the Chargers decide to go after. He's played only 31 defensive snaps in his two years, with 16 of those coming last week after Taylor's injury. Brown has played almost exclusively on special teams during his first two years.
That's one of the reasons Brown feels that the Chargers are going to play a lot of multiple receiver sets and force the Steelers into their nickel package.
“Obviously, yes,” Brown said about the Chargers possibly targeting him. “I haven't played as much as the other guys this season. I feel that they will test me early, but I just have to stand up to that challenge.”
Top cornerback Keenan Lewis, who played the same role last year that Brown will play against the Chargers, has confidence that Brown won't be targeted after a couple of plays.
“They will try to see who is who and what he's got,” Lewis said. “But they are going to recognize real fast that they can play.”
Allen added: “Like Coach Tomlin says, the ball keeps rolling.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.