The great Carnell Lake, who is entering his second season as the secondary coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sat down with Bob Labriola for an interview yesterday that was played Wednesday on Steelers Live at 4. Labriola asked Lake some great questions that included his assessment of all three of his young cornerbacks, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, as well as his thoughts on having a complete off-season for the first time since being hired. In addition, Lake also was asked about what qualities he looks for in a starting cornerback.
The assessments by Lake of his young corners started with Lewis. “Well, starting with Keenan Lewis, he\’s been here a while and he understands the system. He\’s a tall corner, who can play press coverage as well as play off and he\’s got tremendous ball skills and he\’s fast, ” said Lake. The former Steeler great continued on, “And when you combine all those with the experience he got last year, I\’m looking for some good things out of him.”
Next up were the thoughts of Lake on Brown. “Curtis Brown did a great job on special teams using his natural abilities to make plays,” said Lake. “He\’s starting to really pick up the defensive system, and I think when he really understands the system, he\’ll be able to contribute in a big way for us.”
Last, but not least, Lake gave his assessment of Allen. “Cortez Allen really showed some play-making abilities last year, particularly in the Patriots game,” said Lake. “He is able to play big tight ends as well as small receivers man to man and I think we\’re going to be able to utilize those talents again this year with his combined experience, he should be a good part of our defense.”
Labriola next asked Lake what this spring is doing for the young corners, being as he did not get time last off-season to work with the group until training camp, because of the lockout. “It\’s like night and day. A lot of the guys, a lot of the defensive backs, I met in training camp. So all the OTA\’s, the mini-camp leading up, I didn\’t have any of that with those guys and we had to basically cram everything into training camp,” said Lake. He continued, “So we were a little behind last year and I have to give them credit. They really worked at it and were able to contribute. With the additional time that we have to work together before the season starts this year, I think they\’ll just get even better.”
Labriola next asked Lake what kind of qualities he looks for in a starting NFL corner. “I think they have to have a number of qualities, but one, they just have to be mentally tough,” said Lake. “At corner you\’re going to get beat. It\’s just a matter of time and you have to be able to bounce back from that and try to learn from whatever lessons that you may have received in getting beat and apply that to your game, and try to constantly improve. Then a natural talent that we try to find in terms of the talent search that just comes with football.”
The biggest thing that I took away from the talk with Lake is that Brown seems to still be getting a firmer grasp of the defense, and that is to be expected. In addition, Lake is continuing to instill mental toughness in them, along with confidence. We have heard this confidence come out of the mouths of both Lewis and Allen in recent interviews they have given. Lewis has even said that he is expecting to go to the Pro Bowl this year and thinks he is on tap for a big year, in what will be his fourth in the NFL. Judging by the assessment that Lake had of Allen, it appears that he will most likely be the starting nickel back this year with Lewis starting outside opposite Ike Taylor. This matches the reports we have seen come out of the OTA sessions thus far in regard to the pecking order, none of which came as a surprise.
I have stated previously that there will likely be times that all three of these young corners will be on the field at the same time along with Taylor when the Steelers go to their seldom used Dime defense. That sub-package we will only likely see though against teams like the New England Patriots, who like to spread defenses out with their hybrid tight ends and quick wide receivers. Otherwise we will mostly see the Nickel sub-package in obvious passing situations.
We will not get to hear too much from Lake once the season starts, so it is always worth noting the little nuggets he gives out whenever he does speak. Hopefully we will get to hear him a few more times before training camp breaks.