Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-year cornerback Cortez Allen is just a year removed from signing a five-year, $30-million that was to have locked him up in the starting lineup for at least the next half-decade or so.
Things have not exactly gone as planned since then, having been demoted after starting five games in 2014. After two more games, Allen was benched, and a few weeks later ended up on the injured reserve list.
Allen was demoted from the starting lineup again between the preseason and the regular season opener, but he has not even taken the field since then. The former fourth-round draft pick has missed five straight weeks with a seemingly nebulous knee injury that head coach Mike Tomlin did not even update yesterday during his weekly press conference.
Whether the lack of update is a result of a lack of progress, a representation of the seeming unimportance of the former starter to the team’s defensive efforts, or a combination of the two, is unknown, but each is worrying.
The Steelers have been getting heavy use out of Ross Cockrell, whom they signed as a free agent on the final cut down day, since the second week of the season, seeing 70 of 76 defensive snaps two games ago against the Chargers.
He played well, seemingly, in his first two games, facing few targets, but able to be in the right place at the right time to intercept a pass and recover a fumble, and generally make the tackles that became available to him.
But the second-year cornerback has been seeing more time in the last three weeks, and opposing cornerbacks have been targeting him more, finding success in doing so. He has given up seven receptions on 11 targets in the past two games for 129 yards, but that does not paint a full portrait of how less reliable in coverage he has looked in that time, including his decision not to run with the running back on the early 32-yard reception that should have been a touchdown in the past game, a play that does not factor into those numbers.
Playing healthy has been the biggest obstacle in Allen’s career, beginning in his rookie training camp. He was in serious jeopardy of not even making the 53-man roster, having missed the first three preseason games due to injury, before he deflected a pass that was intercepted on his first target in the preseason finale.
The 6’1” cornerback out of The Citadel has had injuries of varying degrees in every season that he has played, many of them pertaining to what is evidently a recurring or chronic knee injury that Tomlin said he was dealing with during the early portions of the 2014 season as he was struggling to play the ball.
It is unfortunate that Allen seems unable to get healthy to at least provide competition for Cockrell, who has made a couple of plays, but seems more likely to be exposed every week. Whether or not Allen ever even gets that opportunity when he manages to get healthy and return to the field remains to be seen.