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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pittsburgh Places Cortez Allen in the Driver's Seat

No one seems to have a clue what the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing during the offseason. Least of all the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The commentators just keep saying, "This is what the Steelers do" and "You have to trust their front office." Well, that trust is eroding in a hurry this offseason. The Steelers have released James Harrison, re-signed octogenarian linebacker Larry Foote, and let Mike Wallace walk. Emmanuel Sanders looks to be headed for New England. And they let up-and-coming cornerback Keenan Lewis sign with New Orleans for what amounts to a bag of peanuts and some type of fermented chicken drink.

Thus enters Cortez Allen.

The two-year corner from The Citadel is about to become the lead dog in the Pittsburgh Steeler secondary. Oh, it doesn't mean that he is suddenly the most important player, not with the likes of Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, and Troy Polumalu still skulking around. But he's pretty darn close.

And the Steelers' success in 2013 may hinge on him more than any of the previously mentioned big dogs.

Allen obviously made a huge impression on the Steelers and their coaching staff over the last two years, or they never would have allowed Lewis to walk. In just three starts in 2012, Allen had 10 passes defended, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles to go with 55 tackles. (This also includes time on special teams and in nickel/dime packages).

But his most impressive performance came in a game where his statistics were not spectacular.

He was spectacular against the Super Bowl champion Ravens in a December contest at Baltimore. Yes, he got beat a couple of times, but it took long-ball master Joe Flacco a lot of shots before he finally connected. Flacco was 1 for 6 going deep on him, and that's pretty impressive.

Allen ran stride for stride with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin for most of the game. And don't think that Steeler head man Mike Tomlin, a former defensive backs coach, didn't notice.

This season, a large part of the Steelers success (or potential lack thereof) will depend on Allen. If he stays healthy, he could be the hinge that swings Pittsburgh above the .500 mark. Not only that, but he could suddenly become an "honorable mention" candidate among the current and former greats in the Steeler secondary.

And "honorable mention" among that group is pretty darn good, especially for a Southern Conference star out of The Citadel. Here's to hoping that Cortez Allen can develop into one of the great draft bargains of all-time.

Because if he doesn't, Pittsburgh will find themselves sitting at home again come January 2014.

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