2014 wasn't a kind year to Pittsburgh Steelers CB Cortez Allen. Following an injury-riddled, poor performing season found Allen ranked as the lowest cornerback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. His stat line read 41 tackles, 2 interceptions. No passes defended, no forced fumbles. You don't have to tell Allen what it feels like to be given a shiny new contract, only to completely under-perform the following year.
"The Steelers felt inclined to do a new deal based on what I did in the past," Allen told Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I had a few hiccups last year as far as injuries that didn't allow me to be where I wanted to be. If I can be out there, I'll give it all to my teammates. It's a new year. It's a new day. It's been a journey, and I understand there are going to be ups and downs. I'm learning more about myself every day."
Between Allen's comments and comments of his position coach, Carnell Lake, not only did Allen have several mental errors which impacted his progress on the field, but injuries prevented him from playing up to the standard fans saw in the latter portion of the 2013 season.
"It was frustrating, but it hasn't affected my motivation," Allen said. "In college, I never missed a practice or a game. So, to come here and have injuries is frustrating. But I can't hang my head. I have to remain positive and work on staying healthy. It's a job trying to stay on the field. It's as big a job as learning my playbook."
This offseason he has spent time training in Arizona with outside linebacker James Harrison as a large contingent of Steelers decided to train with the veteran, and Allen is hoping the preparation there will pay dividends for him on the field, as well as for the Steelers organization.
"I'm working on rebuilding the structure of my body," Allen said. "I want to make sure I'm good at sustaining my fitness for the long haul. The better I can take care of my body, the better I'll be. I've just got to be available. I've proven myself to the coaches. They know me. They know what I can do."
The Steelers know what Allen is capable of, and is why they gave him the new contract prior to last season; however, if there is ever a year where the team cannot afford for Allen to stumble, it would be 2015. With the retirement of Ike Taylor and the free agent departure of Brice McCain, the team is extremely strapped in terms of their quality depth at the cornerback position.
Allen is slated to be a starter along with William Gay and Antwon Blake, but rookies Senquez Golson and Doran Grant will likely be pushing those veterans in training camp. Allen's experience is something invaluable to cornerbacks, and if the Steelers want to improve on the 27th ranked pass defense in 2015, they will need Allen at his best. Hopefully the mental and physical work Allen is putting in this offseason will equate in a healthy and productive 2015 season.