With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
Some questions bear repeating, no matter how many times they’ve been asked, until they get a sufficient answer. One of those questions lingering for most of the past year remains unanswered, and that is this: can Cortez Allen be a full-time starter on a winning defense?
Only one part of this question seems to have been answered so far, and that is that the Steelers will be giving Allen every opportunity to answer it for himself. The fifth-year cornerback has had two aborted attempts to become a reliable outside corner the past two years, and the hope is that the third time is the charm.
To briefly recap, Allen filled in as a starter due to injury down the stretch of the 2012 season, flashing potential, including a flurry of turnovers late in the year that prompted the front office to believe that they could get away with letting Keenan Lewis go in free agency, allowing Allen to enter the starting lineup in 2013.
He did just that, but he suffered an ankle injury in the season opener that caused him to miss the next two games. When he came back, he struggled significantly, and was soon demoted to the nickel back until the coaching staff felt he could be trusted again late in the year, epitomized by a pick-six in Week 16.
Hoping to have righted the ship, Allen was naturally back in the lineup in 2014, but by Week 7 he had been demoted again, and was then benched altogether, contributing only on special teams. Later in the year he was placed on injured reserve due to a thumb injury, in addition to a lingering knee injury.
As the defense looks to turn over a new leaf, Allen’s success or failure as a starter will go a long way toward determining how well the unit as a whole will be able to play. There’s not much yet to be garnered from just a couple of training camp practices without pads, but so far results have seemingly been mixed, with a stronger day two than day one.
While Allen was reported to have been made to look bad by Antonio Brown, any cornerback who has lined up across from him has likely received a similar description at some point. He got beat deep and was caught grabbing—penalties were a key issue for him last year—but he followed it all up with an interception near the goal line on Monday.
Today marks the first day of padded practices, the first time they have been in pads since their playoff loss, so things should start to get more interesting from here on out. And of course there is still more than a month of this process left to unfold before we reach the regular season, so updates on this topic when appropriate will be provided. As for now, we’re just getting our first taste of perhaps the biggest question facing the team this year.