After signing a big extension just prior to the start of the regular season, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen isn’t likely to even be the starter Monday night against the Houston Texans as Brice McCain is expected to get that honor instead due to Allen’s inconsistent play so far this season.
While the team certainly hasn’t given up on Allen’s long term prospects, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said recently he thinks the former fourth-round draft pick needs to work on his focus and his understanding of the game moving forward.
“I think he’s still learning the game,” said Lake during an interview with Scott Brown of ESPN.com following the Steelers win over the Jacksonville Jaguars a few weeks ago. “I think he’s got a lot more in him just from an understanding standpoint. Athletically I’m not really concerned so much. I think he has ability to tie that with the understanding of football in general and what offenses are trying to do. With his hands and his instincts for the ball, I’m hoping when it comes together it’s going to be something where people go, ‘Wow, this is a pretty good corner.’”
Part of Allen’s slow development could come as result of him playing his college ball at a small school, according to Lake. If you remember, Allen was considered a very raw prospect coming out of The Citadel.
“I think his athleticism at that level, playing for The Citadel, he could kind of get away and not really lock in because he just had so much more talent than a lot of people,” Lake told Brown. “He could put it on auto pilot and still make a lot of plays. Up here, playing against receivers like [Antonio] Brown, you’ve really got to focus because as soon as you think they’re one way they’re another way and that’s how they play the game.
“Schematically as well, from a big-picture standpoint, there’s a lot of that going on with offensive coordinators and they’re going to pick on a relatively new corner. They’re going to test their mettle to see if they’re paying attention.”
The Steelers obviously hope that by demoting Allen in favor of McCain starting Monday night against the Texans will help their young cornerback begin to focus more and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said as much this past week when asked if letting young struggling players such as Allen step back and watch for a week. LeBeau, like Lake, still believes that Allen can ascend to the next the level.
“He’s still basically a young player and he’s at a difficult position and sometimes there are some ups and downs out there,” LeBeau said Thursday. “I have great confidence that he’ll find himself through this and be a very strong player.”
Even though he won’t likely start Monday night, Allen still should see plenty of playing time against the Texans when the defense utilizes their nickel sub package. He’ll have an opportunity to show that he can come off of the bench focused.
The Steelers don’t have much in the way of cornerback depth when it comes to the future, so hopefully this step back by Allen results in him taking several steps forward over the course of the next few weeks.
“He needs to strengthen those fundamental skills and also have more tools in his toolbox,” Lake said.