I am here not to praise Cortez Allen's recent play, but hopefully to bury some of the vitriol that has been unleashed on this young man. Before I do that, I want to share something that happened after Sunday's game in reference to one of Steeler Nation's previous goats.
That would be CB William Gay. I published an article about him earlier in the season, and I want to give a little update to see whether he still passes the character test. This anecdote is courtesy of Chris Bradford of the Times Online:
William Gay refused to take credit for his 33-yard pick six. When asked about it he said: "It was a great team win. We made more plays than they did tonight." Thinking he didn't hear the question correctly, he was asked again. Gay repeated: "It was a great team win. We made more plays that they did tonight." OK.
That right there, folks, is humble.
But on to the
goat man of the hour, Cortez Allen. Since being drafted I have watched this young man with interest, and in fact did an article on him during the 2013 off-season. At that time I noted:
A comment by Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette is instructive:
It became tradition after the first week of spring drills for the Steelers' new starting cornerback to make bold predictions about himself, to forecast a Pro Bowl and great feats right away.
Keenan Lewis began that practice one year ago. Cortez Allen ended it today.
"I'm not that type to make predictions or boast about myself," Allen said as the Steelers resumed practices today with their fourth of the spring. "I'm a very humble guy. I just come to work every day and try to get better and better so I can help my team the best I can."
He plays a better game than he talks. That means he won't have to try to back up the kind of bravado his predecessor issued precisely at the same time a year ago, after just three spring practices as the Steelers' new starting cornerback paired with Ike Taylor.
One of the great things about pursuing your life with a minimum of braggadocio is you don't have to have so much of it dished back to you, steaming hot, when things aren't going well.
And things aren't going well at the moment for Allen. But I don't expect that to continue. I think that, like Marcus Wheaton of a few weeks ago, he is having a crisis of confidence. And as Craig Wolfley said today on the Steelers Live broadcast, what better person to help Cortez through this bump in the road than one Ike Taylor, who had to contend with his own benching back in 2006? And as the last article noted, Taylor is not only willing but eager to mentor his teammates.
As Jeff Hartsell's Post and Courier article notes:
Allen said he's learned a lot from all his Steelers coaches and teammates, including All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. But it's Ike Taylor, an 11-year veteran who also went to a smaller school (Louisiana-Lafayette) who's been his chief mentor.
Allen rents a townhouse in Pittsburgh during the season, and in the summer lives in Orlando and trains with Taylor, who like Allen was a fourth-round pick (2003).
"He's taught me how to be a professional, what it takes to be the best and stay ready," Allen said. "I've never seen anyone work as hard as he does. His whole mentality, his commitment to the game, it's something I want to model and develop as I continue my career."
As most knowledgable fans are aware, Cortez Allen chose to go to The Citadel for college. While Allen wasn't entirely sure about his choice at first, he learned valuable lessons there. As Will Graves noted in a 2013 AP article:
"I try not to panic about anything," Allen said. "I try not to worry about anything. I try to be positive about everything."
It's a mindset that took time for Allen to develop. His deep faith played a role. So did four years at The Citadel, where the challenge went far beyond the field. Allen was drawn to the military school because of its high standards both in the classroom and in life. During his first day on campus, he wondered if he made the right decision.
"I was like, 'What did I get myself into?"
And in an interview right after he was drafted with Perry Biggerstaff of Steelers Universe , he noted:
Well, being at the Citadel has taught me how to be disciplined. How to have character and integrity. Just taught me a lot of discipline and just being respectful. It has taught me a lot. How to deal with certain situations, how to persevere, how to deal with adversity and just being there has made me a better person and a better man.
And in an interview with Jared Ginsberg of ClassActSports before the Combine, he said:
"Well, The Citadel's all about time management and discipline, so you know, those things I think help the most as far as, you know, being able to live on a schedule...Just attention to detail, with whether, you know, being on time, listening, paying attention, you know to the coaching, and you know, doing what you're coached to do."
But as Will Graves also noted:
More than once he wondered if the NFL was just wishful thinking. There were times when the confidence that comes so easy now was shaken then.
"Your mind can be your best friend and your worst enemy," Allen said. "It can be that friend to tell you that you can do it and keep pushing or it can be that friend that tells you to quit. It's up to you to decide which side of that fence that you want to be on. I learned to be on the right side of it."
Those of us who are performers, in any field, know how quickly your mind can become the enemy of achieving your goals. And my experience with performers has taught me that the most intelligent and thoughtful musicians are also the ones most susceptible to moments of self-doubt and internal criticism. That can easily become an endless loop playing in your head, persuading you that you are destined to fail yet again, whatever "failure" may mean in the circumstances.
But I have also found that the intelligent and thoughtful ones, when sufficiently supported by those around them, will manage to crawl out of the abyss they have created for themselves. I believe Allen has the tools to do this.
For one thing, despite the benching, Coach Tomlin continues to express confidence that Allen will work through this. This has to be a huge factor for the young man.
And it isn't as if there isn't tape of Allen playing the way the Steelers need him to, even a mere few weeks ago. He had interceptions in two consecutive games, for one thing, as well as a number of batted-down passes.
As mentioned above, Allen also has the mentorship and confidence of Ike Taylor.
And finally, here's Cortez Allen, in an interview with Teresa Varley a few weeks ago:
It's a big [financial] commitment that was made to you. Do you feel like there are a lot of expectations you have to live up to as a result?
I don't think anyone's expectations would be higher than my own. A lot of people will say you have to do this, have to do that. I try to mute as much outside noise as possible and just focus on getting better. I just try to control what I can on the field.
You have quoted Coach Tomlin a few times. How much of what he says resonates with you?
I have a lot of respect for Coach Tomlin. The locker room has a lot of respect for Coach Tomlin. He is a great head coach. He gets us prepared and gives us the information we need when we need it. He doesn't just correct you, he gives you tools to build and carry on from your mistakes. A lot of what he says is true and sticks with you. I am fortunate to be able to learn from him.
As we know, the psychology of the individual can be a delicate thing. Plenty of players who have had far more than the requisite talent to succeed in the NFL have not made it for one reason or another. So I can scarcely guarantee that Cortez Allen will be back, better than ever, in a week or two. But I will say that the two most frequent blocks to fully realizing one's abilities are hubris and poor work ethic, and Cortez Allen is the very antithesis of those two things.
I firmly believe the foundation of discipline, hard work, and teamwork laid down at The Citadel will, in conjunction with the encouragement of his coaches and mentors, help him to get back on track in due time. I look forward to striking his name from the goat register and proudly displaying it on the "hero" list in a not-too-distant game.