CBs: Dark Knights on the Rise

The Steelers have burned through the three cornerbacks who've started opposite Ike Taylor since 2006, but they're quietly confident in the young replacements.

There just has to be a nickname for Cortez Allen after the way he defensed Rob Gronkowski during the Steelers' win over the New England Patriots last year.

"The Gronk Eraser"?

Not very magical, no, but Allen did slam the big tight end to the ground short of the sticks on the first third-down play of the second half. If nothing else, at least Allen has that memory.

"That was one of my favorite plays," Allen said. "The picture for it was amazing. They got me in the air like a frog. I kind of looked like Troy [Polamalu] flying around. It was a great day for me."

It was a great day for the Steelers, who not only beat Tom Brady, but they learned they just might have another big, physical cornerback in their pipeline.

So, how about a nickname?

"I've had so many," Allen said. "Last year coach called me Robin. And there was "two dogs, one bone" for me and Curtis."

Allen and Curtis Brown were the rookie cornerbacks fighting for playing time last season, so we get that.

But why did Mike Tomlin call Allen "Robin"?

"I got called Robin because it seemed like every time I would be there on a tackle Curtis would be there right before me. We battled back and forth on special teams, as far as making the tackle."

Again, why Robin?

"The sidekick," Allen said.

Oh, Batman and Robin?

"Right. And Curtis was Batman last year. This year we're both Batman -- Batman and Batman. It's fun. We're just out there working."

Batman, a.k.a. "The Dark Knight," is rising in movie theaters this week. Allen and Brown hope to do the same the following week.

"We need them this year, point blank," said Ike Taylor. "They improved at OTAs, but we're going to go as far as they take us."

Taylor, of course, is the other starting cornerback, has been the past 89 consecutive games, including post-season. The streak dates back to the last game of 2006 after then-coach Bill Cowher had benched Taylor for five games.

Starting opposite Taylor during his iron-man stretch have been Bryant McFadden, Deshea Townsend and William Gay. But those three are gone. In their places are Batman, Batman and Keenan Lewis.

Right now, Lewis as the edge and will most likely start the opener at left cornerback after a strong spring. But the other two, Allen and Brown, are coming off impressive rookie seasons and springs. They'll be needed to provide depth and sub-package help.

"They bring something different," Taylor said. "Cortez, he's lanky, pretty much can run with anybody. Curt, he's quick as a cat. So you've got two young guys who bring something different to the table. Both of them are aggressive and like to tackle."

Brown, the smaller of the two at 6-0, 185, led the Steelers with 15 special teams tackles last season. The third-round pick's 13 unassisted tackles nearly doubled the runners-up, Allen and Will Allen, who each made 7 unassisted special-teams tackles.

But Cortez Allen, the 6-1, 196-pound fourth-round pick, saw more time – much more time – in the secondary than did Brown. Allen played in 9 games defensively before he was shut down for the playoffs because of a shoulder injury. Brown didn't play in the secondary and missed the final four games with a knee injury.

Brown was held out of several spring practices this year as a precaution for his knee, so Allen received more reps at the nickel position, a position that seems to be a natural spot for the smaller, more agile Brown.

"I didn't get a chance last two-a-days to even do that at all, so he definitely has the experience edge there," explained Brown. "This spring has been my introduction to it. It was pretty nice. It isn't as hard as I thought it would be. I had fun doing it. Hopefully I'll keep getting better and I might have a chance at that spot."

Allen is nearly identical to Taylor in size and would appear to be his replacement-in-waiting. As per the Steelers' way, Taylor's teaching him how.

"He's taught me how to be more attentive to technique, how to coach yourself, how to be critical of what you do as far as being a professional," said Allen. "He's a real professional. I've learned a lot from him just on how to play the game of football."

And Taylor reciprocates the feelings. He likes what he sees in both young corners.

"I like them, so I'm confident in them," said Taylor. "I'll let y'all go with the ‘we'll-see' approach, but I'm confident in them right now."

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The Steelers found another long, strong cornerback in Cortez Allen against the Cincinnati Bengals.

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