Steel City shakeup: Cowher benches top CB Taylor

Only two months after the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Ike Taylor to a $22.5 million contract extension, the team's top cornerback has been relegated to a role in the dime coverage package.

In the wake of the Steelers' dismal 2-6 start, the worst eight-game record ever for a defending Super Bowl champion, coach Bill Cowher suggested he might make some lineup changes. And he began by benching Taylor, who was strafed by Denver wide receiver Javon Walker in last Sunday's loss to the Broncos, and replacing him with second-year veteran Bryant McFadden at left cornerback.

The move is a significant one, given that Taylor is regarded as the Steelers' top coverage defender, and is frequently assigned to cover the opponent's best wide receiver. On Sunday, however, Walker caught six passes for 134 yards, including a pair of 10-yard touchdowns on similar fade routes, where Taylor was the primary defender. Taylor also missed a tackle when Walker scored on a 72-yard run on a reverse.

"It's just something I've got to fight my way through," Taylor said. "[Cowher] just said, 'Fight your way out of it,' and that's what I've got to do."

Taylor, 26, likely will play in dime coverage packages, when Pittsburgh uses six defensive backs. Unlike most teams, the Steelers rarely deploy in a nickel alignment in the secondary.

A second-round choice in the 2005 draft, McFadden played primarily in dime situations as a rookie, and was impressive enough that many observers felt he would challenge veteran Deshea Townsend for the starting job at right cornerback this season. Townsend retained the No. 1 job, but McFadden has started two games for him this year because of injury.

The former Florida State standout is an aggressive defender, one who plays much faster than his stopwatch speed, and who possesses excellent closing speed.

Taylor was a fourth-round choice in the 2003 draft and the former Louisiana-Lafayette star, who moved into the starting lineup in 2005, was seen as one of the NFL's emerging young talents at cornerback. He is blessed with prototype size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) for the position, sub-4.4 speed, and recovery skills. And while Taylor has terrible hands -- by his own estimation, he dropped at least 10 would-be interceptions last season -- he led the league in 2005 with 25 passes defensed.

So highly did the Steelers value Taylor that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau often flipped him from side to side to match him up against the opponent's most dangerous receiver. Rather than face the possibility of losing Taylor as an unrestricted free agent next spring, the Steelers in September signed him to a five-year contract extension that included a $6.4 million signing bonus.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.