The Citadel isn’t exactly known as a factory for the NFL in terms of collegiate programs, but Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen is trying hard to change that reputation. His ascent on the depth chart hasn’t come without some difficulties along the way, but heading into the 2013 season, Allen finds himself penciled in as the starter opposite veteran Ike Taylor.
Keenan Lewis was the relative unknown to make the leap to starter last offseason, and he played his way to a lucrative free agent deal with the New Orleans Saints as a result. The player he beat out to earn that starting gig was none other than Cortez Allen. If Allen pans out the way Pittsburgh believes he can the Steelers and their fans could be having a real déjà vu moment.
Considering the fact that the Steelers didn’t even make an offer to Lewis when he hit free agency this past March, the team must have some serious confidence in Allen’s abilities to get the job done.
The Steelers also brought back veteran William Gay to compete for the cornerback job and still have Curtis Brown, who was actually drafted one round ahead of Allen in 2011, on the roster. This competition should drive home the fact that Allen is more than ready to make the leap from part-time player to full-time cover guy in the Steel City.
At 6-foot-1, 196 pounds Allen is very similar to his counterpart in Taylor on the other corner at 6-foot-2, 195. His play over the final four games of last season for the Steelers after Taylor’s injury showed just what the 2011 fourth round draft choice is capable of. In his limited action last year, Allen graded as a top 20 cornerback according to Pro Football Focus ranking just ahead of full-time starter Antonio Cromartie who by all accounts had a stellar season replacing Darrelle Revis with the New York Jets.
Playing on the edge is a whole different animal from playing a slot corner role. Covering shifty slot receivers and tight ends can be a difficult task no doubt, but understanding route combinations and having the ability to play on an island is a necessity on the edge. Allen will need to prove himself capable of making that adjustment in Dick LeBeau’s defense during training camp.
There hasn’t been a Pro Bowl cornerback from the Steelers since 1996 when the infamous Rod Woodson made his final trip as a member of the Black and Gold. Allen could thrive in his new role and change that statistic for the better in the upcoming season.