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Bengals provide model to Steelers for building at corner

The lesson Marvin Lewis learned when he left the Pittsburgh Steelers to become the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator spawned a philosophy he continues to embrace as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

That explains why five of the six cornerbacks on the Bengals' 53-man roster are former first-round draft picks, including Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati's top pick last May.

"I always tell people that when I left the Steelers in 1996 that I underestimated how good we were in the back end [of the defense]," said Lewis, who coached the Steelers' linebackers from 1993-95 when Pittsburgh had Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake in its secondary. "When I became the coordinator there in Baltimore I didn't quite enjoy the luxury of that. I got my head beat in a little bit until we started drafting some guys in the first round. We drafted one in 1998 and 1999 in the first round and we got a lot better in a hurry. We've continued the same thing here."

Indeed they have, and it is no coincidence that the Bengals have allowed the fewest touchdown passes (11) in the NFL while the 6.3 yards they are yielding per passing attempt is tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the third-best in the NFL.

Given the state of the Steelers' cornerbacks maybe it is time for Pittsburgh to look into using Lewis' model.

The Steelers haven't drafted a cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997.

Of the six cornerbacks on their roster, three (Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and B.W. Webb) were fourth-round draft picks. One was a fifth-round draft pick (William Gay) and the other two (Brice McCain and Antwon Blake) were undrafted free agents.

Throw Webb in with Blake and McCain and half of the cornerbacks on the Steelers' roster were released by other teams before signing with Pittsburgh.

The Bengals offer a striking contrast to the Steelers' approach in regard to acquiring cornerbacks with two first-round picks starting in Leon Hall and Terence Newman and another first-rounder, Adam Jones, playing nickel back.

The Bengals are so stacked at cornerback that Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick, another first-round pick, have had struggled to get on the field beyond special teams.

Think the Steelers would like to have that problem?

"I have to sometimes pick their lip up off the ground because they're not getting to play as much on defense," Lewis said of the Bengals' two young cornerbacks. "They're going to be very, very good NFL corners. We obviously have tried to continue to develop our guys in the back end through draft picks and some of the guys we've acquired. We've been fortunate that way."