While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Might the Steelers still have a quality starting cornerback in Cortez Allen?
A year after drafting two cornerbacks in 2009, with one eventually panning out and the other only lasting a year, the Steelers decided to try the same thing again in 2011, and it seemed that, once again, one panned out, and the other didn’t.
Three years hence, only one of those four players is still on the team, and only two of them are still in the league. And it certainly doesn’t appear as though the Steelers have the one that they really wanted.
Following the 2012 season, which was a bit of a breakout year for Keenan Lewis, the fourth-year cornerback hit unrestricted free agency, and he signed a contract with his hometown Saints, with the Steelers never really offering him much.
It seemed in part due to money, but also in part due to the belief in Allen, who at the time seemed to be on an as promising trajectory as had Lewis, if not more so. Unlike Lewis, Allen got some playing time as a rookie, while becoming the nickel back in year two. He was supposed to take over Lewis’ starting spot in 2013, but things didn’t quite go as planned.
Not much, in fact, has seemingly gone as planned since then. But one would be remiss to leave out the fact that some of that has had to do with injuries, which in turn likely contributed to mental hurdles and a lack of confidence in his abilities. He suffered an ankle injury in the season opener in 2013, and finished 2014 on injured reserve.
In between, he played in 25 games, starting 15 of them, recording four interceptions, including a pick six, to go along with 24 pass deflections and over 90 tackles. Allen is only 26 years old, and we’ve seen in the past that he has the talent to play quality football in this league. If he can stay healthy, and the Steelers could provide more structure around him, he should be able to slowly regain his confidence and become the starter the team thought he might be in 2012.