The Pittsburgh Steelers are barely one week into training camp and they are already needing to reload on defensive backs.
Cortez Allen continues to deal with knee 'discomfort' which required 'minor sugery' and will keep him out for a while. Terry Hawthorne is recovering from his own off-season procedure, and DeMarcus Van Dyke's return from a 'significant' hamstring injury is doubtful.
The team added former-Pitt Panther Buddy Jackson, and traded Nigel Malone to free-agency for Ryan Steed; but as Colbert acknowledged with the offensive line - young talent is a double-edged sword. The Steelers ended 2012 relying on Allen, Curtis Brown and Josh Victorian to carry the load when Ike Taylor went down. Each young man flashed glimpses of potential, but each also dimmed at times in game situations.
Even more pressure was placed on each of their shoulders when Pittsburgh watched Keenan Lewis walk out the door.
Lewis was never ashamed of his love for his home state of Louisiana, nor his affection for his hometown New Orleans Saints. When the Saints reached out to Lewis who became a free-agent after starting one Steelers season, Lewis proudly went marching home.
The Saints couldn't be happier.
Mike Triplett of the Times-Picayune quoted Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in a recent column, gushing on Lewis.
"I'm so excited about Keenan Lewis -- everything about him since the day we signed him. He's got so much ability. The sky is the limit for this guy. He's going to be fantastic for us. We're so excited about him. He's smart, he's tough, he's long. And he's a local hero (from O.P. Walker High School). You've got to love this guy."
"In my opinion, I honestly feel we got the best free agent out there on defense."
There are many Steelers fans feeling the same way as their team nears the first game of the pre-season already missing three preordained contenders for major roles in an elite NFL defense's secondary. Especially when at the time of Lewis's signing, the Steelers put up no perceivable fight to keep him.
The Steelers were in tight salary cap quarters entering free-agency, and are the one team to respect a player's sense of loyalty. The Rooney family encourages their players to become part of the Pittsburgh community, because the players who connect with the city and its people play for the city and its people as much, if not more than just a paycheck. Lewis felt that way toward his real home.
"Other places, you go out and you're playing because you like the game, and it's what you do. But playing for your city, I think just means much more for me. So I know I gotta go out there and show out."
He showed up to 'show out' the day after signing his new contract with the Saints, running cone drills on the practice field. His work ethic was a reason he climbed the depth chart each year in Pittsburgh. However right now, his durability is the trait Steelers fans will miss the most.
His replacement Allen will be missing valuable time over the next few weeks as his knee recovers, but is not expected to miss any regular season action. Lewis continues to earn the respect of his new teammates by continually 'showing up on tape', like he did in 2012 with the second most passes defended in the NFL.
In the end the Steelers did what they felt was best for the organization, not only today but also the future, and also for a player who just wanted to go home. Granting the player his wish came at the expense of experienced depth which will now come under the microscope until Allen returns.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Fallout from Cortez Allen injury to Steelers cornerback corps
- Cortez Allen out 'a few weeks' after minor knee surgery
- Tomlin not giving Mike Adams any slack from stabbing
- Former high school teammates Chris Hubbard and Jarvis Jones back together with Steelers
- Steelers training camp recap: Day 6 sees first two picks in draft making plays
- Steelers Injury Report: Embernate latest victim on the Steelers' offensive line
- Steelers William Gay happy to return home and family
- Steelers Injury Report: Embernate suffers major knee injury