Steelers' Allen on familiar course



The path Cortez Allen followed is a familiar one. He walks in the footsteps left by Keenan Lewis at cornerback.

First, there was Allen's promotion to nickel back when Lewis moved from that spot to starting cornerback in 2012. Then came the move to starting cornerback when Lewis left last year as a free agent to sign with New Orleans for $26 million over five years.

Might Allen's next move be to follow Lewis right out the door?

The Steelers are taking the same kind of approach they took with Lewis in the final year of his contract. They have not started a conversation to try to negotiate a contract extension that would keep Allen with them beyond the upcoming season.

It might seem like a strange position for a team that has considerable cornerback issues. Ike Taylor, coming off the worst season of his career as a starter, is 34 and agreed to a pay cut in his final year under contract from $7 million to $2.75 million for what appears to be his farewell tour through the NFL.

William Gay, who returned to the team after a year away to fill the nickel spot last year, is 29. The Steelers signed 5-foot-9 Brice McCain after the Houston Texans cut him. They waited until the fifth round to draft Shaquille Richardson. Backup corners from last year include Isaiah Green and Antwon Blake.

Maybe the Steelers are not sure yet about Allen after one season as a starter, but at least they have more to go on than they did with Lewis, who played very well last season with the Saints. Maybe they do not think that highly of Allen; if not, then why is he still starting?

It's always possible that the Steelers could wait one more season, see how Allen plays and then try to sign him. That did not work so well with Lewis.

Allen contends he is blissfully oblivious.

"You can ask anybody, I never really think about contract stuff or what year this is," Allen said. "My goal is to be the best I can to help my team and get to the Super Bowl. That's my focus. Everything else will fall into place.

"Whatever happens on the business side, that will come when it comes. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now I'm just playing football."

Allen says he's doing everything he can so he will be healthy in the fall. He missed two games last season with an ankle injury and was bothered also by injuries to his knee and Achilles.

"A lot of things were nagging," he said. "In the offseason I've done a great job of hitting those target areas -- in the weight room, massaging, stuff like that, knowing the areas my body is weak in and just strengthening those areas."

Allen also would like to help an area in which the Steelers have been weak for several years -- intercepting the football. He buoyed their hopes in that area when, after Taylor was hurt, he moved into the starting lineup late in 2012. Allen finished with a flurry of takeaways, with two interceptions in the 15th game against Cincinnati, a forced fumble in that game and two forced fumbles in the finale against Cleveland.

Last season, Allen managed just two interceptions, but one of those helped beat Green Bay when he returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. Those two interceptions tied him for the lead on a defense that managed just 10.

"Rod Woodson said to us last year, catch the ones that are given to you," Allen said of the Hall of Fame cornerback who was a coaching intern last spring and summer. "We can do a better job at that. We've had our opportunities. I think the group of guys we have right now, it's going to be a positive year."

By coincidence, Woodson also is the most recent Steelers cornerback to make the Pro Bowl, for the 1996 season. The Steelers have gone through many at the position since then. Allen will be the first cornerback other than Taylor to start two consecutive years since Deshea Townsend started four straight from 2004 through 2007.

Two springs ago, Lewis boldly predicted he would make the Pro Bowl for the 2012 season before he even nailed down the starting job. He came up short, but he turned into a good one the Steelers probably should not have let get away.

Allen makes no bold statements, never mind predicting a Pro Bowl for himself or a new contract.

"If I work as hard as I can and put in the effort to be the very best I can be, everything else will take care of itself."

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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