By Jeremy Hritz
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen recently underwent a procedure to clean up his knee to alleviate the discomfort that he was experiencing. Mike Tomlin was optimistic about Allen’s condition and downplayed its severity. He said, "We wanted him to get the surgery done now so he can begin rehabilitating immediately. This surgery was a minor procedure and will have no long-term effects on his return to the field. We look forward to his rehabilitation process and having him back on the field in a couple of weeks.”
While Tomlin’s words sound reminiscent to his comments on Ben Roethlisberger’s knee procedure back in early June, Roethlisberger had ample time to recover and be ready for training camp. And while the coaching staff may feel confident that Allen’s surgery will not detrimentally impact his ability to play this season, just what impact and effect will it have on the team in the short term? And, for the purposes of covering all angles, what if Allen’s knee becomes an issue for the entire season?
In the short term, the depth at cornerback is benefiting from Allen’s absence, as it is providing them with opportunities to get repetitions that they wouldn’t necessarily get in camp. The player that is benefiting mostly from this is Curtis Brown, who is fighting to prove his value to the team, but so far, has yet to do so. Just this past Friday evening, Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review reported that Brown was again not having a good practice.
Stepping in as starter for Allen is William Gay, who is no stranger to Pittsburgh, but who is also a liability as a starting cornerback. In the event that Allen is sidelined for longer than expected, Gay would be the starter opposite Ike Taylor, and unless you are a Steelers fan with a short memory, you can recall his shortcomings in coverage during his tenure as a starter.
Unfortunately, the players that would benefit most from Allen’s hiatus would be DeMarcus Van Dyke and rookie Terry Hawthorne, but both, like Allen, are out with injuries. It is uncertain just what Van Dyke and Hawthorne could add to the Steelers defense being that Van Dyke was not around for training camp last season and that Hawthorne is just a rookie. However, it seems that Van Dyke’s hamstring injury is somewhat serious, and it is uncertain how long Hawthorne will be out. What it all adds up to is a thin cornerback position with inexperienced depth.
So while Gay, Brown, and to a lesser extent, Josh Victorian and the other cornerback bodies in camp will benefit from Allen’s absence, the injuries to promising youngsters make what could be a chance for growth a frustrating missed opportunity.
Now, for the doom and gloom side of things, and that is if Allen’s knee causes him to miss several games, or the entire year. While this seems to be an unlikely scenario, if it did happen, the weakening of the secondary would be unavoidable, because neither Gay nor Brown are capable starters. If this were the case, the Steelers would have to hope for the resurrection of their pass rush to compensate, or the quick recovery and emergence of Van Dyke or Hawthorne. While the pass rush improvement seems like a very real possibility, the ascension of Van Dyke, Hawthorne, or even Gay or Brown for that matter, is extremely unlikely. And in a passing dominated league, and with a schedule featuring the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford, the left cornerback position could target of much abuse.
Hopefully Tomlin’s assessment is accurate and Allen will get healthy and back on the field without any lingering effects. If he doesn’t, the results could be ruinous.