The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. But some priorities weigh more heavily than others, and one of the most essential priorities the Steelers will encounter this offseason is certainly going to be a process: the rebuilding of Cortez Allen.
The subject has already been discussed ad infinitum, but we simply cannot hold a coherent conversation about the Steelers’ offseason objectives without outlining the importance of determining whether or not Pittsburgh’s 2011 former fourth-round cornerback is capable of contributing to the defense as a starter.
The Steelers have attempted to turn Allen into a starter for the past two seasons now, both of which have been marred by injuries and poor performances that necessitated his demotion and eventual benching.
While he somewhat rose from the ashes late in the 2013 season, regaining his starting spot and recording a pick six in the penultimate game, things didn’t go nearly so well last season. Not only was he completely benched from the defense, he suffered a thumb injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Allen has spent his time since then cleaning up his thumb, in addition to having his knee worked on, which has been a concern the past two years. But his issues certainly seem to go well beyond the physical and reside largely in the mental aspect of the game.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert recently spoke of Allen’s shaken psyche and speculated that it began early as he began accumulating penalties in the preseason. He was flagged three times in 119 exhibition snaps, and added another nine in less than 500 snaps during the regular season. The majority of those were for holding or pass interference.
Allen seemed to lose his confidence in his ability to make a play on the ball, such that he failed to do so even when he was seemingly in position to make a play. But the Steelers both believe and hope that he can rebound and resume his starting position, though he will have to earn it.
It’s a virtual certainty that the Steelers will bring in some quality competition against which Allen will have to compete via free agency and the draft. Despite his new contract, however, the situation has to be evaluated from the perspective that anything Allen is able to contribute will be a positive, because right now, he is such an unknown.