Injury, departures provide opportunities to Steelers' young defensive backs
The Steelers' defense has evolved from an aging corps of venerable veterans to one with battle-tested youngsters tossed into the fray, in part, because of injuries and free agency.
Cornerback Cortez Allen landed the job at right cornerback when Keenan Lewis returned home to New Orleans to play for the Saints. In reality, he earned the job while auditioning at left cornerback after Ike Taylor suffered a season-ending right ankle injury at Baltimore in December.
Allen, a fourth-round pick in 2011, will have plenty of competition during the preseason, including seven-year veteran William Gay, who relinquished the right cornerback job to Lewis when he bolted for Arizona one year after replacing injury-riddled Bryant McFadden two years ago.
“It's just how things transpired,” said Allen, whose sore knee forced him to sit out the first day of practice in pads Monday. “I don't think it's a coincidence, but rather the way things went. It's matter of circumstance and timing.”
Talent matters, too.
Allen is the likely opening-day starter, mostly because of his versatility. Allen would be the fourth different starter at right corner in four seasons.
“I wish that wasn't the case,” defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said. “Fortunately, we've been able to manage it. My concern right now is the depth behind the starters.
“Cortez is getting better. He adds an extra element to the position because he's played nickel the past two years.”
Allen struggled some in man coverage but had two interceptions. He was more consistent and reliable against the run and totaled 44 tackles, including a season-high eight in the season finale against Cleveland.
“I'll approach it as providing the Steelers with whatever they need out of me,” Allen said. “I think I'm equally effective as a run stopper and pass defender. I can do whatever they ask me to do. They drafted for me a reason, and I've given them confidence that I can do anything they put in front of me.”
Until Taylor's injury, he was the only fixture at either corner the past three seasons. Taylor, in his 11th season, is confident Allen can handle the job.
“In respect to injuries, that's the way the game goes,” Taylor said. “The situation is something we can't control. You have to understand the business is like that. I've got a lot of faith in Cortez.”
Allen started three of the last four games in 2012, but he saw considerable time as a nickel back and on special teams. There's little room to err with a long list of challengers — Josh Victorian, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Curtis Brown, rookie Terry Hawthorne and Isaiah Green — awaiting a chance.
Allen and Gay will enter the first preseason game against the New York Giants with the spotlight on them. Lake and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will have greater demands on both to make game-changing plays.
“Everyone talks about the big plays, but we've been No. 1 the past couple of years and we're still striving,” Taylor said. “We know creating turnovers will be a key for us.”
Taylor said Gay's return adds experience and confidence in the secondary.
“We have a special group where you can plug somebody in there and they'll be ready to go,” said Gay, who was released by Arizona after one season. “That's what you want in a secondary because you don't know about injuries.
“It's cool to have new faces, but you always got Ike on the other side. If we get consistent play, then that's what we're looking for.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ Roethlisberger hurting after big hit
- Steelers veteran defenders want young teammates to step up
- Steelers’ Brown combats disruptive defensive ploys
- Steelers notebook: Defense sags in NFL rankings because of struggles against the run
- Steelers not receiving big returns on their offseason investments
- Steelers’ Bell gets bulk of team’s touches
- Mistakes multiply for Steelers in rout by Ravens
- Big Ben’s struggles emblematic of loss
- Robinson: There’s no telling when play of aging QBs will fall off
- Ravens try to shift focus back to football
- Steelers film session: Missed tackles prove costly