Over the course of the past three seasons, encompassing 40 total games played with 18 starts, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Cortez Allen has posted a total of six interceptions to go along with 34 pass breakups, in addition to causing three fumbles.
Those are solid numbers, averaging about three turnovers per season, especially considering the games missed and limited number of starts during that time period. But we already know this. We already know that we have seen Allen, the Steelers’ fourth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, display the requisite abilities that should allow him to be a starting cornerback at this level.
The Steelers front office also believed that they saw enough in him to be confident in giving him a five-year contract prior to the start of the 2014 season that was worth $26 million. And despite the fact that last year was most certainly a chore for Allen, he even had his bright spots there.
Make no mistake, there are a number of issues that the fifth-year cornerback must overcome this season with regards to his craft. But perhaps his greatest responsibility entering his third attempt at becoming a starting cornerback is being more disciplined about his body and maintaining his health.
The fact of the matter is that injuries have plagued Allen since he first entered the NFL as a raw small-school prospect. At the time, in fact, it was even considered somewhat of a surprise that he made the 53-man roster as a rookie, when injured reserve was at one point an option.
He dealt with injuries throughout training camp and only got on the field for the final preseason game, early on in which he managed to defend a pass down the field that he tipped to another defender that resulted in an interception. That likely decided his fate in terms of making it onto the 53-man roster.
But since that time, he has simply failed to remain healthy. As a rookie, he missed one game due to an ankle injury, and then he left the season finale after injuring his shoulder, which caused him to be inactive for the Steelers’ playoff game.
The following season, as he entered the slot in the team’s nickel defense, Allen found himself in the starting lineup during the final stretch with Ike Taylor out, but he was forced to sit out one game, which he would have started, due to a lingering groininjury. That left the Steelers hurting in the secondary, and the Cowboys took advantage. That game could have been the difference between the playoffs and an early draft pick.
The following season, with the departure of Keenan Lewis in free agency, Allen formally entered the starting lineup, beginning his career as a starter by dealing with a knee injury in training camp, which he followed up with an ankle injury suffered just before halftime in the season opener that caused him to miss the next two games.
Upon his return, he struggled, playing poorly enough to get himself demoted to the nickel, only to regain his place in the starting lineup by the end of the year. This past season, a lingering knee injury has been cited as contributing to his struggles, and perhaps exacerbating his technical flaws. He finished the year on injured reserve with a broken finger after being demoted again, and then benched.
In contrast, William Gay has played in all 128 regular season games since being drafted in 2007, further proof that sometimes the greatest ability is availability. If there’s one thing that Allen needs in his attempt to rebound this season, it will simply be the capacity to stay on the field.