The NFL Comeback Player of the Year award is granted to players who have “shown perseverance in overcoming adversity”. For Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerback Cortez Allen, his whole 2014 season was stricken with adversity. Once thought to be the definite answer to the future of the Steelers’ secondary, demoralization and injury would see him benched and eventually sent to the IR list.
So certain were the Steelers on Allen that they granted him a $26 million contract over the span of five years to become the future of the cornerback position. After seven starts at the beginning of the season, he was benched in favor of Brice McCain. Four games later he was finished for the year when the team deactivated him from the active roster due to a broken thumb that required surgery.
His dismal season has led many in Steelers’ Nation, and across the NFL, to label him as a bust, bum, and everything in between. Six interceptions and 34 defended passes in the past three seasons may not be what we expect from a multimillion dollar athlete, but it shows that he is far from a bust or a washed up player. He has the potential to bounce back from his shortcomings.
The Steelers obviously want their investment to eventually flourish, but, at the same time, must have a contingency plan in the event he does not. Drafting both Senquez Golson and Doran Grant in this year’s draft has proven that. The talented rookies have the talent to come in and compete for a starting role, which gives Allen all he needs to stay hungry and be a competitor.
Also in competition for his job are Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin. Blake started in a handful of games in place of Allen in the second half of last year while he was on the Injured/Reserve list, and Boykin, who was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, is looking to return to 2013 form where he recorded six interceptions in one season.
The biggest advantage that Allen has over any of his teammates is an important one: his height. The tallest corner on the roster, standing at 6’1″, he has proven in the past that he can use his size to his advantage. While cornerbacks under six feet have proven they can be productive, at times they are at a disadvantage when it comes to the taller receivers in the league.
A productive offseason is vital for Allen to make a successful comeback in 2015. According to Steelers.com, Allen had interceptions against Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown in training camp last week. While it shows that he is able to match up with two of the better receivers in the league, Allen must continue to prove that he can do so week in and week out.
His real string of tests will begin on August ninth when the Steelers take on the Minnesota Vikings in the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. The five preseason games on schedule will give defensive coordinator Keith Butler and defensive back’s coach Carnell Lake what they need to gauge whether or not Allen is ready to reclaim the position that he lost last year.
The road to Allen’s return to the starting lineup will be a long one, but, if he stays vigilant, he has the ability to prevail. Continuing to make positive strides in training camp and showing improvement in preseason matchups will only take him so far. Excelling over his competition and proving in the regular season that he has earned his role will produce results, and Steelers Nation will forget about a time when he had a slump in his career.
Since it was first awarded in 1963, a cornerback has never been awarded the Comeback Player of the year award. Can Cortez Allen become the first at his position to earn it? Time will tell, but there is a good feeling in the air that the young defensive back can achieve greatness, and prove his many critics that they are all mistaken about his ability as a professional athlete in the National Football League.
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