Corner or nickel, peak or valley, Steelers Cortez Allen is playing for what's on the front of his jersey

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Wherever he's playing, Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen wants to contribute to the success of his team. He's fine playing outside or inside within the defense, writes BTSC's Dale Grdnic.

PITTSBURGH -- Cortez Allen has had plenty of ups and downs during his two-plus seasons in the NFL, but that roller-coaster ride pretty much is life in general for cornerbacks in the league.

The good ones have more ups than downs, and Allen appears to have an upside that would make him a solid performer for the Pittsburgh Steelers for years to come. But valleys in his young career deal with injuries that he has sustained more often than times he's been burned for touchdowns.

There already have been some significant injuries since the Steelers selected him from The Citadel in the fourth round during the 2011 NFL Draft. Allen had a shoulder injury late in his rookie season, while an ankle injury hampered his development last year, even though he missed just one game during each of his opening two seasons. Another ankle injury during the season-opener this season cost Allen 2 1/2 games, and he's just now rounding into form.

"I feel pretty good," Allen said. "So, everything's cool with me, but we're doing well as a defense. That's the most important thing. We've still got a lot of building to do and a long way to go to be where we want to be, but I'm highly confident that we'll get there."

That wasn't the only time Allen mentioned his defensive teammates during an interview that lasted several minutes. Allen is the consummate team player, and that's as much a reason for him being a favorite of the coaches as his playing ability. Allen takes things in stride, and that's certainly beneficial to his play at cornerback.

Allen was expected to be the Steelers starting cornerback opposite veteran Ike Taylor this year, but a right knee injury and surgery during training camp caused him to miss the majority of the preseason, including every exhibition game. He started the opener against Tennessee, but injured an ankle in the first half and missed the next two games.

Allen started against Minnesota in London and again Oct. 13 at the New York Jets, but nagging ankle issues and sub-par play forced the Steelers to move William Gay into the starting spot and Allen inside when extra defensive backs came on the field. It's a position he would have played anyway when the Steelers go to their pass-coverage defense.

While some might be disheartened by that turn of events, being injured and then going from a starter to secondary role, Allen has taken things in stride.

"My focus right now is to help the team win and to help us by being the best player I can be as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers," Allen said. "By no means am I an individual in a sense where I'm selfish and need this or want this. My job is to help the team, whether it be at corner or at nickel. I play for these guys. I play for the name on the front of our jerseys.

"I play for the people around me, the coaches and the fans. And that's what is important, to help this team get these victories. In this defense, you have to be physical just to be here. That's just the mentality of the group, and if you don't have it you won't play. That's just how it is. Everyone on the team can come up to make that tackle, and that's how it is with our secondary."

At 6-foot-1, 196, Allen has the size and physical attributes to handle coverage on a tight end or big back. But there's more to covering players from the slot, as Allen explained.

"A lot of what goes on with the inside position is above the neck, but I have a great group of guys with Troy, Ryan, Will Allen and Will Gay," Allen said. "Coach Lake and the rest of the DBs, they all provide a great deal of knowledge as far as offensive schemes and how teams are trying to attack us that they instill on me, and that helps me to be in a better position."

It also should help Allen to have more peaks than valleys this season.

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