Cornerback Golson gains Steelers' confidence

Mark Kaboly
| Monday, March 21, 2016, 7:18 p.m.

BOCA RATON, Fla. – So, who is going to start opposite William Gay at cornerback for the Steelers this year?

That answer still is months away from being definitive, but hearing Mike Tomlin on Monday at the Boca Raton Resort and Club during the NFL's annual meeting, it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that Senquez Golson is at the front of that list in Tomlin's eyes.

On the flip side, the team's highest-paid cornerback — Cortez Allen — is way down on that list.

Tomlin threw support toward Golson as being able to quickly clear up the Steelers' murky cornerback situation. At the same time Tomlin didn't hand out a ringing endorsement of Allen as not only being able to reclaim his starting position but even make it through spring practices.

“We are excited about getting Senquez Golson back in the mix,” Tomlin said. “I think oftentimes he is forgotten about. We were excited about him a year ago when we drafted him. I still share that same level of excitement. I can't wait to get him on the grass.”

The Steelers used a second-round pick on Golson last year to try to stabilize a position of weakness. However, Golson injured his shoulder near the end of the spring practices and was put on injured reserve during training camp.

He had surgery not long after that and didn't play one preseason snap, but Tomlin continued to show confidence in Golson.

Following the season, Tomlin said he viewed Golson as a second-year player even though he never played as a rookie, insinuating he believed Golson would be ready for significant playing time this season.

By way of actions in free agency, that well may be the plan.

The Steelers haven't addressed their biggest weakness from last year other than re-signing William Gay and Ross Cockrell. Brandon Boykin is a free agent, Antwon Blake signed with the Titans and Doran Grant played one defensive snap as a rookie last year.

Tomlin hinted the Steelers won't sign a free agent cornerback, but will likely target the position on the first two days of the draft. Relying on a rookie to jump into a prominent role is something the Steelers rarely ask a player to do.

One thing is for sure, Tomlin isn't going to rely on Allen even though the Steelers gave him nearly $25 million the day before the season started two years ago.

Tomlin said after the season he wasn't confident Allen could become a contributor and didn't back down on that statement Monday.

“Not at all,” Tomlin said. “It hasn't.”

A lot of that has to do with Allen's health.

“I don't know where his level of health is,” Tomlin said. “I don't think that any of us do.”

In his five seasons, Allen has missed games because of a broken thumb, sprained ankle, a pulled groin and a knee injury.

He missed part of camp in 2013 after surgery on a knee, had surgery on his knee after being placed on injured reserve near the end of the 2014 season and was placed on IR again this past year with another knee injury.

Since signing his contract extension, Allen has played in 12 games, started seven and lost his starting job twice. Allen was beaten out by Blake a couple of days before the start of the 2015 season and then injured his knee in a reserve role in the opener against the Patriots.

The Steelers placed Allen on IR on Oct. 24.

Tomlin said he is in a wait-and-see pattern with Allen's health status.

“I don't know where he is in terms of his schedule of rehabilitation, but I am sure at some point in this process we are going to have a sense of where he is and what he is able to do, those types of things,” Tomlin said. “I just don't have the answers to that as we sit here today.”

Tomlin wouldn't commit to Allen making it to training camp in July. The Steelers could save $4 million with a post-June 1 release.

“Again, I don't know. I really don't.” Tomlin said. “He has some health issues, obviously.”

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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