PITTSBURGH -- There were a lot of questions surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 season, but the biggest enigma had to be Cortez Allen.
A fourth-year cornerback, Allen went from being among the team's biggest playmakers at the end of 2013 to eventually being demoted this past season and then to end the year on injured reserve. Allen started the opening seven games at left corner and easily was the Steelers leakiest secondary member.
Allen primarily was a scout-team performer at practice after that, fractured a bone in his thumb during a walk-through, also had a knee problem and eventually was placed on injured reserve in December. So, is he still in the club's plans for 2015?
"They just want me to be healthy, to continue to get healthy and come back next year ready to go,'' Allen said. "There's always opportunities, and there's always going to be them. I view myself as a guy that's willing to work for whatever he can get, and I vow to always be that kind of guy, to work and do whatever I can for my team.''
Allen stopped short of saying he was going to win a starting cornerback job during the upcoming offseason, but Steelers coach Mike Tomlin believed there certainly would be an opportunity for Allen once he's healthy.
"I didn't see much from him, (and) his overall health was an element of it,'' Tomlin said. "He got his knee scoped a couple of weeks backs. He's a couple weeks post-op from a knee scope that he was dealing with over the course of the season. Obviously, the thumb injury was what it was, (but) he's going to write his story in terms of how he responds to that adversity.''
Tomlin added that Allen's tale is not unique to other cornerbacks in the NFL, where his play in single coverage can elevate someone to the top of his game one minute and plummet him to the bottom in the next.
"Ike Taylor and I laughed quite a bit about his present circumstance because Ike has been there,'' Tomlin said. "The ups and downs associated with playing corner in the NFL (with) promotions, demotions, playing in rhythm, trying to find that rhythm is all part of it.
"How you respond to the adversity that professional football presents you oftentimes defines you and your career. He's going to be faced with a stiff challenge in terms of responding to the adversity that he faced. I look forward to watching him do that and helping him in any way that I can professionally.''
Sure, health was an issue for Allen, but there were many others when he wasn't hurt. Allen rarely made plays and certainly not the splash ones he was known for the previous season. In fact, Allen routinely gave up deep passes and in the end wasn't even the sure tackler that he had always been as well. So, what happened to him?
"I would say it was little technique things here and there and being healthy here and there, and I'll take care of those things,'' Allen said. "And just finishing those plays that come to me. If I can do that, I'll be a better player for it. (So), one, I have to stay healthy and two, just finish my plays. A lot of those plays that I didn't make were very close plays.
"So, just finishing my plays, but more importantly staying healthy and just continuing to compete. (But) I'm not a guy that keeps my head down about things. I always see the big picture and try to see the positive in every situation. So, that's the way I look at things always. I'll evaluate what transpired this year and go from there.''
The Steelers put a lot of faith in Allen after his strong 2013 campaign. They let Keenan Lewis leave in free agency and signed Allen to a five-year, $26 million agreement that has him under contract until 2018. Allen did not believe this put additional pressure on him.
"I'm disappointed because I wasn't able to finish the season with my guys, my brothers on the team and the whole team in general,'' Allen said. "That's more disappointing to me than anything, that I couldn't compete with the rest of them. So, that's why my main thing is to get healthy first, and then I'll work from there.
"(And) with the help of the coaching staff and my teammates and things like that, I'm confident that I can get my issues fixed. (But) I didn't make the plays because I didn't make the plays, and I didn't do as good as I wanted to do because of my own personal shortcomings. But I play the game whether I was making this or not making this. I'm always even keel.''
For Allen to continue with the Steelers and be the top cornerback they need, he'll have to be better than even par on the field.