SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19: Vernon Davis #85 of the San Francisco 49ers gets wrapped up by Cortez Allen #28 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
That seems the easiest of what promises to be a training camp full of positional battles. If Allen showed anything his rookie year, it's the ability to handle slot coverage duty, and could very well grow to be better in that area than his predecessor, William Gay.
Allen, a former fourth-round draft pick from The Citadel, looks to be the Steelers third cornerback behind Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, which is like saying he's the Steelers' 12th starter on defense. Last season, Gay was a starter, and played matchup corner in the base defense, but moved inside to cover the slot in nickel situations. Lewis, last year's nickel corner, played on the outside.
Allen showed flashes of outstanding all-around ability, in particular, as part of a great team defensive effort against offensive powerhouse New England in a 25-18 Week 8 victory. With a team deep with young cornerbacks, the youngest of them, Allen, looks to lock down one of the league's toughest positions.
It's difficult in the sense that covering the slot requires a player to know what every other player is doing. His zone coverage responsibilities are dictates by shifts, motion and audibles, as opposed to the outside corners, who often are just handling the ground in very specific areas. Because the slot corner, especially in today's NFL, will handle tight ends and even running backs along with receivers, he must be equally adept at turning and running as well as coming up to deliver a hit on the receiver.
The Steelers have been preparing for the offensive arms race the NFL has become for the last few years. With the additions of Allen, Lewis and CB Curtis Brown, going along with a contract extension given last year to Taylor, they clearly recognize the adage, "you can never have too many outstanding pass defenders."
If it's Allen's to win, the Steelers are liable to continue the outstanding pass defensive legacy being established in Pittsburgh.