How Long Can Lewis Hold Off Allen?

Wally Pipp once came out of a lineup and his replacement played 2,130 consecutive games. Keenan Lewis won't come out for Cortez Allen, even while injured.

LATROBE – In the middle of this past week, a day after Keenan Lewis shrugged off an injury to his shoulder and refused to miss a practice, Ike Taylor – the ironman of the cornerback set – was asked if he inspired Lewis to suit up that day.

"If it's not life-threatening, we'd like for everyone to be out there," Taylor said to a disbelieving reporter, who gulped and said this:


"That's what I said," Taylor said. "Life-threatening."

It's not hard to believe Taylor would live by such a credo. After all, he hasn't missed a start in five years, or a game in seven years. And after all, Taylor broke his thumb last season and didn't miss a practice until he underwent surgery and the doctors and coaches conspired to keep him off the field.

Of course, a broken thumb is nowhere near life-threatening. Neither is Lewis's sprained AC joint.

But it hurts.

"A lot," said Lewis. "It's tough breaking down and doing things out there, or trying to throw a blow with that shoulder. Jumping sometimes hurts. Reaching over my body hurts. But like Ike said, ‘life or death.' It's part of training camp."

So is competition, and Lewis is feeling it from Cortez Allen. Allen is a young corner with the kind of mind the Steelers love in their corners: He forgets easily.

Lewis does not. While Lewis is probably the best pure man-to-man defender the Steelers have this side of Taylor, he does not forget. He carries baggage.

Remember the busted glass when he punched the fire-extinguisher door a few years ago after a poor game? Well, the Steelers do. And they worry about another such meltdown and its subsequent snowball effect. Lewis worries, too. He worries about losing a first-team job he's only possessed since last spring when William Gay left in free agency. And so Lewis refuses to come out, even if he's never heard of Wally Pipp.

"I told myself I've got to fight through this," Lewis said. "If not, it gives more people an opportunity to make more plays, a play I could make. So I just suck it up and go."

But make no mistake, Cortez is coming. What a killer.

"I feel like as long as I continue to work hard, perfect the things that I do, everything will fall into place," said Allen, the second-year pro from The Citadel who believes he's playing much better than he did as a rookie when he impressed coaches as the team's No. 4 corner.

"I feel like I have a better grasp of how to play that nickel position within coach (Dick) LeBeau's defense, as far as the different tricks to it," Allen said. "I feel my technique has gotten a lot better, as far as my one-on-one coverage. I just feel like a better player. I feel like I play faster. I'm a little more knowledgeable with everything, so I'm able to compete."

Allen attributes his focus, his mental clarity, his singleness of purpose, and his enthusiasm to his mother and father, two older brothers, DBs coach Carnell Lake, and LeBeau.

"Coach LeBeau is the best teacher I've ever had as far as coaching is concerned," Allen said. "You can tell he cares about the individual and not just what you can do for him. I learned a lot just from the way he coaches and the way he carries himself every day. He's a legitimately true respectable guy and I look up to him."

So when Will Allen get his first-team reps?

"Well, right now I'm not looking at it that way," said Lake. "Let me just evaluate the guys, however the lineup is. And he's doing a great job."

Lewis is playing well, too, even though he's in pain.

"I think playing through the pain is helping me stay mentally into it," said Lewis. "Before the injury came up, I sometimes wouldn't concentrate. I ain't glad I'm hurt, but I'm glad I'm seeing that I can focus with pain."

"The reality," said Lake, "is we're going to need them both. That's how I look at it. What's best for the team, however it plays out, it will play out. But I have to make sure they're both ready to go and I'm treating them as if at any moment any one of them could be starters. That's my approach. It's not my job to determine who steps on and off the field. It's my job to get them ready."

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