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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Might the Steelers still have a quality starting cornerback in Cortez Allen?
Following the 2012 season, the front office allowed free agent cornerback Keenan Lewis to leave without putting up much of a fight. The primary reason cited by many who would claim to be in the know was the organization’s confidence in the continued growth of Cortez Allen, who started late that year in place of Ike Taylor due to his injury.
He finished that year in a flurry of turnovers, with two interceptions and three forced fumbles, and in 2013, he was lining up opposite Taylor, with Lewis now in New Orleans. But he’d already dealt with a knee issue in camp, and then sprained his ankle in the season opener. When he returned to the lineup a few weeks later, he performed so poorly that he was demoted for most of the rest of the season.
He seemed to redeem himself a bit as the year went on, capped off by a pick six in the penultimate game of the season, offering hopes that 2014 would prove to be the turning point that the previous year was supposed to be.
But it only got worse.
Though Allen did managed to intercept two passes—one was due to a wide receiver injury on a deep pass—the fourth-year cornerback struggled for much of the season. Even when he was in position to make a play, he would seemingly freeze up, perhaps lacking confidence in his abilities, and allow the receiver to make the play instead.
After the first six games, Allen was demoted again to sub-package work. After another two games and more touchdowns allowed, he was benched for good.
Allen finished off his season playing on special teams until a thumb injury landed him on injured reserve late. While Allen has the height for an outside corner spot, he doesn’t have the speed desired. Whether or not he has the mental makeup for it is also greatly in question right now.
Where is the talent that we saw out of him in his first two seasons? Has a greater role in the defense exposed who he really is as a player? It’s hard to say whether or not that is true, but the front office should have no choice but to operate under the assumption that they can’t rely on him to be a starter in 2015.