The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

December 15, 2012

Young Steelers DBs ready for prominent roles

PITTSBURGH — As the veteran member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ otherwise-youthful cornerbacks, Ike Taylor enjoys being among the first- and second-year players at his position meetings.

“I feel like they keep me young,” Taylor said. “Especially with the new young music coming up, the clothes, shoes, all that kind of stuff.”

This week, it’s much more than music or fashion trends that have Taylor appreciating players such as Josh Victorian, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Curtis Brown and Robert Golden.

With Taylor sidelined with a fractured right ankle and top reserve Cortez Allen likely out with a groin injury, the likes of Victorian and Van Dyke are thrust into prominent roles.

Picked up late in training camp, neither was even active for games as recently as two weeks ago. But as the Steelers (7-6) head into Dallas (7-6), they’ll be counting on the inexperienced cornerbacks to deal with the Cowboys’ talented receivers.

“We tried to teach these young players like they are going to be starting because we know someday, they will be starting,” Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.

“Unfortunately, we got a couple hits at the same spot. Generally speaking, throughout the course of a season,

this happens every year. It’s not a surprise that some of these guys are going to be starting and taking a significant amount of snaps. Hopefully they

will be prepared and answer the challenge.”

The results were mixed in Sunday’s game, the first without Taylor for the Steelers since 2006. Allen made his first career start, and fellow second-year pro Brown also was bumped up the depth chart to play in nickel packages.

Repeatedly picking on Brown and Allen, Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes and was 12-for-18 when passing on third down with eight of those completions going to receivers that either Brown or Allen was covering.

That led to coach Mike Tomlin benching Brown in favor of Victorian, who had been cut off the practice squad the week prior.

While acknowledging that was “a big step,” Victorian said he never doubted his abilities – not when he was cut five times by four teams in a 14-month span, and not when he was beat by Danario Alexander for a touchdown on one of his first plays in his first NFL regular-season game Sunday.

“To play corner not only on this team but in this league, you have to have confidence,” the 5-foot-10 Victorian said.

“Coming up I wasn’t always as big as everybody, so confidence is something that has been building in me since I was a young kid. I think I’m pretty confident now.”

Van Dyke was confident he was going to be drafted by the Steelers in 2011 after speaking multiple times with Tomlin. Instead, Oakland plucked him in the third round with the 81st pick, leaving Pittsburgh with Brown at No. 95 and Allen at No. 128.

Van Dyke started four of 14 games for the Raiders as a rookie last season but was cut at the end of this past training camp.

The Steelers were happy to scoop him up but limited him to special teams during the first half of the season.

But multiple penalties that negated returns led to Tomlin deactivating Van Dyke five times in a six-game span before he was needed against the Chargers because of Taylor’s injury.

“It’s always good to put your hand in the pile, as coach Tomlin always says,” Van Dyke said. “I just have to go out and make plays and help my team win this game, do what coach LeBeau and coach Tomlin want me to do.”

During practice Friday, Victorian and Brown were the top two corners to play after Keenan Lewis, a first-year starter who himself fought through a minor hip injury this week.

Golden, an undrafted rookie safety, also was given reps in nickel packages.

The Steelers secondary will depend upon to help deal with Dallas’ Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten, who all are on pace to have 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Between them, Victorian, Van Dyke, Brown and Golden have combined for four NFL starts.

“We will need every one of them, without a doubt,” LeBeau said. “They will all be playing.

“Hopefully, we have some quality depth. It’s a challenge for us.”

Notes: LB LaMarr Woodley made it through an entire week of practice without setback or incident after missing the past two-and-a-half games due to an ankle injury. He is listed as probable to play Sunday. ... An apparent stomach virus is making its way through the Steelers locker room. LB James Harrison missed practice Wednesday and Thursday due to illness, and WR Antonio Brown, WR Plaxico Burress, reserve LB Stevenon Sylvester and LS Greg Warren were among those who were affected by it Friday.

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