Tomlin said CB Brice McCain might get more snaps in part “because of the inconsistent play of others.” Think CB Cortez Allen heard that?
— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) October 14, 2014
Once upon a time there was a Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback, whom both the team and Steelers Nation admired as a rookie. This corner, however, failed to crack the starting line up in his second year, only breaking through to the other in his third season. Going into year four, the team gave him a big contract – only to see him struggle.
- We’re talking about Cortez Allen, right?
Well, yes, Cortez could be the unnamed Steelers corner above, but it’s actually Ike Taylor. Taylor’s story and Allen’s story are similar, there’s no perfect parallel. Bill Cowher began using Taylor to shadow the opponents best receiver during the Steelers ’05 Super Bowl run, and it was Taylor’s interception that recaptured the momentum for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
That was all in Taylor’s third season. Allen first memorable play of his 3rd season was missing a tackle vs. Minnesota in London. He did come back to make a big pick six vs. Green Bay, but it William Gay was the Steelers most consistent corner in 2013.
But, like Taylor before, him the Steelers choose to keep Allen off of the free agent market prior to his fourth season, only to see him struggle. Bill Cowher’s reaction was to bench Taylor for 5 games in 2006.
- Now, Mike Tomlin is unambiguously threatening a similar fate for Allen.
Over one Behind the Steel Curtain, site editor Neal Coolong argues that such a benching might be beneficial to Allen’s development.
Allen Reclamation Project
Player development is a curious concept (and one that can’t be explored fully here.) Sometimes players show incredible flashes as rookies but then are seen no more. Other times a player can tinker on the edge of obscurity, only to emerge as a solid starter or even superstar (think Brett Keisel and James Harrison.)
- Cortez Allen showed those flashes as a rookie and as a “sophomore.”
In the final couple of games of the 2012 season, Allen almost single handedly doubled the Steelers turnover total. This was after a rookie season that saw him get time in the team’s upset victory of the New England Patriots.
But Allen’s development since those moments has been anything consistent. Opposing teams unhesitatingly target him, and with the exception of the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville games, Allen’s given them no reason to regret it.
When Allen got beaten badly by Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron Trent Green suggested that he should have had safety help. Reporters asked Mike Tomlin if that was the case, and Tomlin flat out denied it, laying full responsibility at Allen’s feet.
- While the prospect of benching Allen might win popular approval in Steelers Nation, it’s a dubious move in terms of football merit.
Brice McCain is the new “next man up” at corner, and while McCain has legitimately earned his 15 minutes of fame as a nickel back, there’s nothing to indicate he’s ready to start.
Instead of benching Allen, Tomlin should make Allen’s development his personal project. Tomlin entered the league as a defensive backs coach, so he knows the tricks to the trade. While Tomlin shouldn’t and couldn’t devote excess 1-1 time with Allen, Tomlin does need to closely monitor the situation via defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
With the cupboard bare behind him, and Ike Taylor aging, it isn’t a question of the Steelers wanting to get Cortez Allen’s development back on track, it’s a question of them needing to. This is necessary not only to salvage something from 2014, but for the good of 2015 and beyond.