Steelers still have high hopes for Cortez Allen

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers won't give up on cornerback Cortez Allen, who regressed in 2014 after signing a five-year $26 million contract right before the start of the season.

"I think coaches are going to work hard with him this offseason to put him in the best situation he can be in to get back out there, and I think achieve what we all think is great potential," Steelers president Art Rooney II said recently. "But he's got to be able to do it on the field."

Allen had a rough time on the field in 2014, losing his starting job and then the duties of nickel back in the middle of the season. Allen had two interceptions in the Steelers' first five games but he played sparingly after Brice McCain and Antwon Blake passed him in the cornerback pecking order.

The Steelers placed Allen on injured reserve in early December after he underwent minor knee surgery and also had a broken thumb surgically repaired. Coach Mike Tomlin admittedly "didn't see much" from Allen during a season in which the Steelers expected the fourth-year veteran to make a significant jump.

"His health was an element of it," Tomlin said.

Not that Tomlin gave Allen a pass because of his physical ailments.

"He's going to be faced with a stiff challenge in terms of responding to the adversity that he faced this year," the eighth-year coach said. "I look forward to watching him do that and helping him in any way that I can professionally."

The Steelers have a vested interest in getting Allen turned around and not just because they made a significant investment in the 2011 fourth-round draft pick.

The Steelers aren't exactly brimming with talent at cornerback and Ike Taylor, whom the Steelers hoped Allen would supplant as their No. 1 cornerback, is unlikely to be re-signed.

Taylor, however, offers hope for the Steelers that Allen can be salvaged.

The 12th-year veteran lost his starting job in 2006, a season after Taylor had been pivotal in the Steelers' run to the Super Bowl title.

Taylor rebounded in 2007, Tomlin's first season as the Steelers' head coach, and established himself as one of the better cover cornerbacks in the NFL. With Taylor seemingly at the end of his NFL career, the timing couldn't be better for Allen to replicate what Taylor did after the roughest stretch of his career.

"Ike has been there," Tomlin said. "The ups and downs associated with playing corner in the NFL [with] promotions, demotions, playing in rhythm, trying to find that rhythm is all part of it. How you respond to the adversity that the game of football or professional football presents you often times defines you and defines your career."

Allen has shown flashes and the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder has the athleticism and ball skills to develop into a No. 1 cornerback. But Allen is farther away from becoming one than he was at this time last year.

And the Steelers are almost certain to take a cornerback early in the 2015 NFL draft.

"I view myself as a guy that's willing to work for whatever he gets," Allen said. [The coaches] just want me to continue to get healthy and come back next year ready."

Allen said the lost season he experienced in 2014 did not sap his confidence. Polishing his technique, he said, will be the difference in making plays that eluded him in what the Steelers hoped would be a breakout season.

"One, I've got to stay healthy," Allen said. "Two, just finish my plays. A lot of those plays I didn't make were very close plays."

Said Rooney, "We're still optimistic that he can do it and has the potential to do it. Now it's really up to him to make that happen."