Steelers role players today often become starters tomorrow

Gregory Shamus

Steelers Curtis Brown failed to maximize his opportunity in Week 14 against San Diego, to put it mildly. But like many of the Steelers' current defensive starters, they were low-end back-ups who rose to starting status. It's not over for Brown, a third-round pick in 2010.

Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds has been the subject of an offseason of scrutiny in Pittsburgh. Assuming the starting role at one of the team's marquee positions will draw in attention.

His story is simple; he's a former high draft pick who has not yet won a starting position, although he was used as a spot starter due to injury.

The story isn't a whole lot different for Steelers cornerback Curtis Brown, who's likely on the fringe of the roster to make this year's squad.

Brown was known mostly as a special teams contributor until December 9, when he was thrust into a main role due to Ike Taylor's absence. Contributing as the team's nickel back, Brown only played 26 plays, but gave up six completions on six passes thrown at him, 84 total yards and a touchdown.

Simply put, Brown was targeted by Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, and Brown did nothing to stop him. He was replaced in the middle of the game by undrafted rookie Josh Victorian, who took over the nickel role the following week against Dallas.

So where does that leave Brown this season? A third-round pick in 2011, hopes were high for the athletic-but-raw project out of the University of Texas, Depth chart cellar-dwellers have often worked themselves into starting roles on the Steelers, especially the defensive backs. Neither Ike Taylor nor Cortez Allen - the team's starting cornerbacks - were starters before their third seasons (this is Allen's first year as a starter. LaMarr Woodley, the starting OLB opposite Worilds, did not play extensively as a rookie, but more as an exception to this rule, he was a starter in his second season.

The Steelers signed veteran William Gay to handle the nickel this year, relying on Gay's experience within this defense and within the league to stave off collapses like the one against San Diego, where the Steelers largely limited the Chargers' offense. Rivers shredded not just Brown, but their whole defense on third downs, in the franchise's first win in Pittsburgh since the AFL-NFL merger over 40 years ago.

Brown, in the third year of his four-year rookie contract, is likely regulated to just special teams duties as training camp progresses, but depth at cornerback is critical in the NFL, as, ironically, Brown's performance against San Diego showed last year.

He'll get his chance to earn more playing time, and possibly, even a contract extension. How he'll handle that chance, though, will determine his future.

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