Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen (28) runs between drills during the NFL football practice on June 5 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
by Mike Pelaia
One of the big questions of the Steelers off season has been whether or not Cortez Allen can step in and replace Keenan Lewis as the number two cornerback. It’s something the Steelers desperately desire and need at the same time.
The short answer to the question is, yes, he can do it. He’s played in the nickel package and had a relatively decent year in 2012. He even filled in and started for Ike Taylor when Taylor went down with an injury late last season. He posted 55 tackles, forced three fumbles and picked off two passes while playing in all 16 games.
The Steelers let Keenan Lewis leave for greener pastures despite the argument that he may have been their most consistent corner last season. This tells you they believe in Cortez Allen and feel he can play at a high enough level to start.
However, the long answer to the question is; maybe.
While the team did let Lewis walk as a free agent, they brought back William Gay to provide more depth at the position. Gay has started on this defense before and the team clearly brought him back as an insurance policy in case the Allen experiment goes awry.
Despite Allen being in the league for three seasons, last year was the only time he’d seen significant playing time, does he have enough experience to make the transition to full time starter? That’s a question he’ll have to answer though his play during camp and the pre-season. With Gay looming in the shadows, Allen could be on a short hook.
Another obstacle could be Allen’s comfort level. The bulk of the time he played last year was in the nickel package. Is he more suited or more comfortable in that role?
Allen says he’s ready to start and wants to take the next step; indicating he has the confidence. Saying it and doing it are two different things, we’ll need to see how he performs on the field.
The last issue Allen will need to potentially overcome is misreading plays. There were several times last year where he was burned on the long route or let the receiver take the better angle on him because he simply couldn’t read the play.
That is the biggest factor in this transition; he’ll have to understand the routes the receivers are taking and anticipate the play on a far more consistent level if he wants to be the starter for the long haul.
Allen certainly has the talent, he has the ability and he has the confidence. The Steelers believe in him but have a backup plan in case.
We are about a month away from camp and when they hit the field come August, it will officially be time to determine the answer to the burning question; can Cortez Allen replace Keenan Lewis?
Editor’s Note: Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association www.steelnationassociation.com – Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.