By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. - Josh Victorian couldn’t help but chuckle when asked if this was an important training camp for him.
Victorian is a backup cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and with the way players in the team’s secondary were injured last season and dropping like flies this season, the Destrehan High School grad could end up in a starring role.
"Sure, this is a big camp for me, but I would say that every year because you always have to be motivated to do better than you did the previous year,’’ Victorian said recently after a practice at Saint Vincent College.
"And you never know when your number’s going to be called, so you have to be ready all the time. That’s the only way to be successful in this league, to be on top of your game and keep improving every day. So, that’s the way I’ve always looked at it, and I believe that’s what got me going in this league so far.’’
After completing four seasons at Louisiana Tech in 2010, Victorian was signed by the New England Patriots and placed on their practice squad. He spent some time there during the 2011 season, but never cracked the regular 53-man roster. Victorian hooked up with his hometown New Orleans Saints after the 2011 season, but the Steelers signed him to a one-year contract last season.
Victorian sparkled, at times, during training camp last year. But he was released and signed to the practice squad before the season. He was on and off the practice squad throughout the season, as other roster positions needed to be filled and personnel decisions needed to be made, but Victorian eventually was signed to the 53-man roster Dec. 8, 2012 after the cornerback position was decimated due to injuries.
"I’m sure that’s a difficult time for any player, being put on the practice squad, being released and then going back on,’’ Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake said. "That’s the business side of this sport. But we always had confidence in Josh, so we kept tabs on him and when we needed him he stepped right in. We expect him to do the same thing this season.’’
Victorian played in a home game against the San Diego Chargers the day after he was placed on the active roster, and he got his first NFL start Dec. 16 at Dallas. Fortunately for Victorian, there was a large contingent of Steelers fans among the nearly 96,000 fans at Cowboys Stadium. It helped to hear some cheers when he stepped onto the field for the first time with the No. 1 defense.
Victorian was mostly matched against Dez Bryant and helped hold the Cowboys’ enigmatic wideout to just four catches for 59 yards. Victorian and the Steelers secondary wanted to get physical with the volatile Bryant, who at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds is four inches taller and some 30 pounds heavier than the cornerback. Victorian’s aggressive style drew three penalties, and it also angered Bryant, who was demonstrative in celebrating a 24-yard touchdown catch with about six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"You never want to get beat,’’ Victorian said. "I’d rather give up the 15-yard penalty than have them light up the scoreboard on me. I learned that from the veterans on this team. You don’t want to hold or interfere with a guy, but sometimes that’s the only play you have.’’
Bryant’s score wasn’t the only touchdown Victorian allowed last season, and it won’t be his last. However, he’s going to keep challenging opposing receivers up and down the field. Just ask Steelers top wideout Antonio Brown, who has battled Victorian in just about every practice during this training camp.
"He likes to get physical and talk a lot, but I love that,’’ Brown said.
Victorian said going against Brown is making him a better player.
"You know, to be the best, you have to play the best," Victorian said. "That’s all I’m trying to do.’’
Victorian has been getting a good deal of reps with several cornerbacks out for extended time due to injuries. Cortez Allen, the projected starter opposite Ike Taylor, will miss the next few weeks after right knee surgery. Third corner Will Gay has been starting for Allen, and Curtis Brown moved into the No. 3 role. But Brown has been hampered with a sore left hamstring for a few days.
First-year player DeMarcus Van Dyke has missed all of camp with a right hamstring injury, and Terry Hawthorne - the team’s fifth-round pick from Illinois, had surgery on his right knee during spring practice and has continued to have problems with it at camp.
Another healthy cornerback is Isaiah Green, a first-year speedster from Fresno State, while two other corners, Buddy Jackson and Ryan Steed, were brought in the past couple days to fill in the depth chart.
"I know what I’m up against here, but I’m getting a chance to play. I just have to take advantage of it,’’ Victorian said. "How I look at it is that any day could be my last day, and I don’t want to let it go by without doing everything I can to stick with this football team. I had a great time last season, working hard and playing hard, and I had an OK season, some good points and bad ones.
"The key was that I learned from my mistakes. And I definitely don’t want them to happen again. I also did pretty well on special teams, and I’m on all the coverage units this year. That’s the way I stayed here out of camp last year. I got here late, but I busted my tail and I made a couple big plays, especially in the preseason. So, I’m looking forward to doing that again this year.’’
And if the Steelers need to press him into game action again this season, you can bet that Victorian will be ready and more than up for the challenge.
|Victorian started one game for the Steelers last season and went up against one of the best receivers in the NFL, Dez Bryant. Victorian limited Bryant to just four catches for 59 yards.|