Rookie Grant has big shoes to fill in Steelers secondary

In this photo taken with a fisheye lens, a goalpost hangs over the practice field as the Pittsburgh Steelers go through drills during NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
In this photo taken with a fisheye lens, a goalpost hangs over the practice field as the Pittsburgh Steelers go through drills during NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) – Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Doran Grant is well aware that his No. 24 previously belonged to recently retired cornerback Ike Taylor for more than a decade.

He doesn’t give much thought to it though. Grant is searching for daily improvement during his first training camp and wants to do enough to eventually become a mainstay in the Steelers secondary like Taylor before him.

“I’m feeling good, feeling more confident,” Grant said. “I think it’s going pretty solid. I want to just keep learning every day and coming out to work.”

During offseason workouts, Grant got a chance to work with Taylor, who won two Super Bowls during a 12-year career with the Steelers.

“You listen to him because he’s been around so long and has a lot of knowledge,” Grant said. “If you get that knowledge, you have to take it and run with it.”

Grant hopes to flourish during his rookie season and the Steelers want to see the same after they selected the Ohio State player in the fourth round of the draft.

His addition is part of a face-lift in the secondary, which was overhauled with injured second-round cornerback Senquez Golson and seventh-round safety Gerod Holliman in part because the Steelers finished 25th in the league in interceptions. It was also done out of necessity following the retirement of Taylor, Troy Polamalu and the loss of Brice McCain in free agency.

Grant is a welcome addition to a group highlighted by Cortez Allen, William Gay, newly acquired Brandon Boykin and Antwon Blake among others.

“He’s a very smart player, he’s physical and he’s fast,” Blake said. “His development is going pretty well for a rookie.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing how he can continue to improve every day.”

Grant, a co-captain on last year’s national champion Ohio State team, started 15 games at cornerback. He was a first-team all-Big Ten selection, finishing second on the team with five interceptions.

Grant already displayed his ball-hawking abilities during training camp practices, as he twice jumped routes and picked off passes, returning the interceptions for would-be touchdowns.

“Big plays happen when guys are where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be there,” Grant said. “When you’re at a certain spot on the defense, you’re going to make a play.

“You have to make sure you’re doing the right things to get you to that spot.”

Veteran safety Will Allen praised the rookie’s work ethic.

“I just think he has natural instincts,” Allen said. “It’s one thing to do it in practice and it’s another to do it in the game. Once he starts getting more reps in the game, I think he’ll be right where he wants to be.

“He’s showing that he has great promise and he’s going to be a really good player in this league.”

The coaching staff wanted Grant to focus solely on special teams during the preseason opener against Minnesota before taking snaps at cornerback against Jacksonville.

Continued adjustment to the speed of the NFL will also go a long way toward helping Grant’s development.

“Games are kind of like practice, but the speed is a little faster with another team out there,” Grant said. “You’re seeing different formations and different personnel and it’s something you have to work on.

“That’s why you study your playbook because when it happens in the game and practice, you can just react.”

It will take time for Grant to reach that point. Until then, the goal is continued improvement for the rookie.

“I’m just trying to make plays, trying to do something,” Grant said. “I just want to keep improving on special teams and improving my role.”

NOTES: LB Ryan Shazier and FB Will Johnson didn’t finish Thursday’s practice with injuries deemed as minor, though both are expected back on the field Friday. … Practice on Thursday was delayed an hour because of wet field conditions caused by passing storms through the area.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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