Once considered a long-term projected, fourth-year Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen steadily ascended through his first two seasons in the NFL, graduating from dime back to nickel back, and finally to starter by year three.
The Steelers chose to let Keenan Lewis leave in free agency without even making an offer for a multiplicity of reasons, not the least of which was financial concerns, but the steady rise from Allen was also a major factors.
And now after about a season and a half of starting in this defense, the results are beginning to raise questions about whether or not Allen has already plateaued.
The fourth-year cornerback is set to be demoted for the second straight year when the Steelers have been counting on him to seize the opportunity, grab the reins, and become a leader of the team’s defensive backfield.
While he has gotten a couple of interceptions, however, his performance as a whole has left a lot to be desired. This season alone, he has missed far too many tackles and been beaten deep down the field a handful of times.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are still without Ike Taylor, meaning that William Gay, the man who replaced Allen in the starting lineup last year, has to be the team’s top option at cornerback.
And for the next game, it appears that Brice McCain will get his opportunity to start, giving the Steelers their shortest secondary in a while.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said that he thinks sitting a player down can do him some good, but he also added that Allen will still see plenty of time in the nickel. Then again, the Steelers have been erratic in their usage of the sub-package lately.
So the question now is what kind of player Allen will be when he gets back into the starting lineup. It took him a long time to get back there last year, and that was with a healthy Taylor in the lineup. Allen has now temporarily fallen, technically, to fourth on the depth chart.
The Steelers had been counting on a turnaround from him when they signed him to a long-term extension just before the beginning of this season, and the early returns have not been overwhelmingly positive.
Part of the decision to make that deal was the belief that there was still room to grow from Allen, but it’s not at all clear that that is the case. While he recorded interceptions in back-to-back games, and recovered a fumble on Sunday, his down-to-down responsibilities are of greater importance.
The Steelers need Allen to be a long-term answer that can be a bridge to the future, to the next generation of defenders, and to provide stability and strong play in the interim. Whether or not he can be that player is more up in the air than the organization would like.