Rookie cornerback Grant eager to show he's ready for play in NFL
Cornerback Doran Grant paced the sideline at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, waiting for a chance to prove he's as good as advertised.
Yet, the Steelers' fourth-round draft pick didn't line up once to show he can cover Minnesota's receivers. Or prove he can make tackles in the open field as his scouting report suggested.
Instead, Grant played only special teams. It was a curious move, considering the Steelers are without their second-round pick, cornerback Senquez Golson, who began training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
“I was ready to play,” Grant said. “I really don't know why I didn't play other than I have to wait my turn.”
If Golson is unable to suit up this season, then Grant could be tossed into the fray earlier than projected. With a roster spot seemingly secured, he will be competing for playing time with a long list of cornerbacks vying for snaps during the preseason,— including B.W. Webb, recently acquired Brandon Boykin, Kevin Fogg and Jordan Sullen.
“A lot of guys coming out of college aren't used to playing special teams,” Webb said. “But young guys have to do whatever it takes to secure a roster spot. It's all about competing for a spot, but we aren't cutting each other's throat.”
Coach Mike Tomlin said the decision to play Grant only on special teams isn't reflective of an inability to transition from college to the NFL. Besides, the Steelers run a defensive scheme similar to the one Grant excelled in at Ohio State.
“No, he's not behind at all,” Tomlin said. “We like the work that he's done. He came into training camp ready to go. He's shown great intensity.”
Tomlin, though, wasn't overly impressed with what he saw during Wednesday's early evening practice at St. Vincent, particularly in the two-minute drill. Grant repeatedly was beaten by All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. Of course, he can be excused for having a difficult time keeping up with Brown, but the raw edges of his talents were exposed.
“We wanted him to focus on a lot of special teams work in that first game,” Tomlin said. “We've got five preseason games, and we're going to utilize them. He was able to focus solely on special teams in the first game. He played extensively, probably more than anyone else in that area.”
Tomlin said during his pre-game news conference that Grant likely will play Friday when the Steelers face Jacksonville in a preseason game at EverBank Field.
“In the next game, we'll let him participate on special teams and defense,” Tomlin said. “With four preseason games to go, he's going to have an opportunity to show what he's capable of.”
There's a chance Grant will fit perfectly into a defense that has shown few tweaks since defensive coordinator Keith Butler assumed command.
Grant has been working hard this week to get into the lineup. He has stayed on the practice field late, working on mechanics and learning the various coverage schemes.
“At this level, you've got to give it something extra,” Grant said. “You can't go on the field, and expect to be good your first time out.”
“I'm picking up on different roles,” he said. “I know I can better at something. I'm looking to be a complete player, so I'm willing to play special teams.
“I always thought Ohio State's defense was patterned after the Steelers,” Grant added. “We were asked to be aggressive and run to the ball, which is certainly an emphasis with this defense.”
If nothing else, Grant is learning the hard way. He has been challenged to cover Brown and deep threat Martavis Bryant.
“Actually, It gives you confidence,” he said. “Even if they catch the ball, you know you're getting better against the greatest receiver (Brown) in the league. Every time I go against (Brown), I go hard. It just sharpens the iron.
“I feel more comfortable here than I did in college. In college, for some reason, I felt tensed and played tensed and played tight. But since I've been here, I've gotten looser and more confident playing this game.”
Grant faced some good receivers during practice at Ohio State, including second-round pick Devin Smith (New York Jets) and Evan Spencer (Washington Redskins).
“At that level, you are going against the best every day,” Grant said. “That's how I feel here, and you can only get better from that.
Cornerback William Gay has served as a mentor to Grant. He often stresses patience and hard work to a rookie working overtime for his shot.
“You always want to play, but it's not always something you can control,” said Gay, in his ninth season. “What (Grant) can control is what he does when he gets on the field.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.