By Matthew Marczi
As it currently stands, it sounds as though Cortez Allen will have to prove himself before the Pittsburgh Steelers anoint him as a starter once again, as reports are that William Gay has been taking the first-team reps at outside cornerback, with no change throughout the week. Allen has resumed his old slot role from last season. Even Curtis Brown is supposedly seeing an increased role in practice.
The company line is, evidently, that Allen is still dealing with his ankle injury, which he suffered toward the end of the second quarter of the team’s first game of the year. He proceeded to miss the second half of that game, as well as the two subsequent games, with Gay taking his place.
Of course, Allen’s ankle is healthy enough to practice in the slot, but not healthy enough to practice outside, evidently, so that sort of puts into question how much weight the injury angle actually carries.
When Allen came back against the Minnesota Vikings, he turned in a shoddy performance that included two touchdowns allowed—including a 70-yarder—and three missed tackles, so it is no surprise to see this action being taken.
In the meantime, they have at their disposal William Gay, who has never missed a game in his seventh season, and has 54 starts to his name, including 39 in Dick LeBeau’s system.
His other 15 starts came under defensive coordinator Ray Horton for the Arizona Cardinals last season, who was, of course, the defensive backs coach for most of Gay’s tenure in Pittsburgh until 2011, when he left to take the defensive coordinator job in Arizona.
On the other hand, Cortez Allen already has a relatively detailed injury history in his young career, with just five starts to his name. There would be no shame if Allen still needed some time to develop before he is ready to be a consistent starter.
Remember, he missed most of his rookie training camp, and then again this past training camp, so he has missed a lot of prep work behind the scenes. That is not to mention his higher responsibilities during his college tenure at The Citadel and the fact that he picked up on football late.
If it is in Cortez Allen’s—and the team’s—best interest to ease the third-year cornerback back into the defense, and into a starting role, then I am in full support of that plan.
As I have previously written, William Gay has done an admirable job starting opposite Ike Taylor for two and a half games already this season, so if he ends up starting another game or two (or even more), that should not limit the Steelers in any way.
In fact, he has forced one of the two fumbles for the team so far this year, even though neither was recovered. Gay has thus far made the team look smart for re-signing him, but the onus will be on him to prolong that perception.