Three Steelers to Watch

Keenan Lewis, Anthony Madison and Sly Sylvester are three reasons to watch the Steelers' preseason opener Saturday against the Lions. Here are their stories:

LATROBE – Keenan Lewis is drawing praise from those behind the scenes for his development as a second-year cornerback.

He's also being praised by his harshest critic.

Mike Wallace has been Lewis's best friend since childhood. If you see one here at training camp, you see the other, and they're usually squabbling like an old, married couple.

So Wallace isn't beyond giving his buddy a good public tongue-lashing. And on Tuesday, he was asked about Lewis.

"He's nothing like last year – night and day," said Wallace, the second-year wide receiver.

"Keenan just knows what he's doing. He's so much more comfortable and confident. He's a lot smarter, too. Last year he wanted to prove he was this big, bad physical Steeler cornerback. He'd come up so aggressively that it was easy to get behind him. He's not doing that anymore. He waits for things to come to him. He's looking great."

Wallace, of course, beat Lewis early and often last camp. And he'd tell him about it, and then he'd the ol' boys back in their New Orleans neighborhood about it. Lewis would get ticked off about it, but it never hurt the friendship.

"He's like my brother," Wallace said. "We fight about stuff all the time, but we make each other better. He doesn't want anybody to catch a pass on him. He doesn't care if it's a 2-yard pass. And I think that hurt him.

"But he's different now, and that's the truth. If he sucks I'd tell you. But, no, he's good. To tell you the truth, I'm having a hard time catching passes on him. He's so big and rangy."

Lewis, at 6-0, 208, is a corner in the classic Steelers mold. Right now he's a solid backup to the 6-2, 195-pound Ike Taylor and the 6-0, 190-pound Bryant McFadden.

"He's longer than both of those guys. Man, he's long," Wallace said. "He's kind of hard to catch passes on. He gets in the way."

Wallace, of course, has one nit to pick with his buddy.

"He needs to get more picks." Wallace said. "He's batting everything down and he needs to catch them instead. He's more than just a bat-down player. We need the ball.

"Other than that, everything's perfect."

THE OTHER GUNNER

Lewis is running first team as one gunner, opposite Anthony Madison, who's still running first team ahead of Arnaz Battle. But that might not last for long.

Battle was brought over by new special-teams coach Al Everest, who loved everything about Battle's special-teams play in San Francisco. That wouldn't appear to bode well for Madison's chances this year.

"Yeah, but Al likes me, too," Madison said. "Still, I have no idea how it's all going to shake out."

Madison, as he has at every one of his five NFL training camps, is in a roster battle. Last year he lost that battle, but was brought back to the Steelers after they allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns. It may have been a coincidence that once Madison came back they allowed no more touchdowns. Then again, it may have been Madison.

Currently, Madison's running with the first unit on four special teams, including both coverage units. He's one of the best punt gunners in the league, but he says he's improved his play at cornerback. The Steelers must agree, since he's been getting work for the first time at nickel back.

"All I can do is just wait and see what happens," Madison said. "You just don't know. You really don't know. You just hope and pray everything falls into place. You can't count numbers. That'll drive you crazy."

THE FAMILY SYLVESTER

Stevenson "Sly" Sylvester has a first name for a last name and a last name for a first name, so he understands why his teammates (not to mention reporters) often mix them up.

"Every time they introduce me, it's Sylvester Stevenson," the Steelers' rookie inside linebacker said with a laugh. "My name is kind of dyslexic, but it works for me."

Sylvester has been working at the mack position, where he finds himself behind Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox.

Is that all?

"Yeah, this linebacker situation is tough," he said. "Making any NFL team is tough, but with the numbers we've got, it might even be harder here. But the coaches will pick and I hope they pick me."

The educated guess is that the coaches will pick Sylvester, as well as the rest of the crowded inside linebacking corps. It's the position that could be the fat one on the final roster.

Then again, it's a position for top-flight special-teamers, so why not?

The 238-pound Sylvester has played well. He's shown an affinity for special-teams play, is proving to be stout against the run. He also drops well into coverage. And the other day Sylvester ran all the way to the pylon to force Dwayne Wright out of bounds and allow the defense to come away with a 4-3 win in the goal-line drill.

At least that's what the replay showed; the controversial call was overruled in a team meeting.

"All the coaches, even the offensive coaches, saw it was a defensive player who hit the pylon, not the offensive player," Sylvester said.

Sylvester made the Steelers' draft wish list because of his stellar play against California in Utah's bowl game. He was also Utah's star the previous bowl season in an upset of Alabama – the Tide's last loss. Sylvester was too young for the Utes' demolition of Pitt a few years earlier, but the teams will play again to open this season.

"They play this year at our house," Sylvester said. "I wish I was there to see it. But I have other plans."

Those plans, of course, have him staying in Pittsburgh.

Will he keep his No. 47 if those plans come to fruition?

"Actually, it's kind of a Steelers-like unorthodox number for me," he said. "I kind of like it. I think I'm going to keep it."


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