PITTSBURGH -- There is no bigger indictment of a player's performance during a game than being yanked from it by the head coach, which is what happened to cornerback Cortez Allen last Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin pulled Allen from his role in the club's nickel-defense against the Indianapolis Colts in favor of third-year player Antwon Blake, who intercepted Andrew Luck late in the game to seal the victory. Allen had been dislodged from his role as a starting cornerback several weeks earlier in favor of sixth-year veteran Brice McCain, who just joined the Steelers this year.
"I was doing what I felt was necessary for us to win the football game,'' Tomlin said. "But it has no bearing in terms of what I think he's capable of largely or in the long term. He's got to lick his wounds, roll his sleeves up and come back to work this week. We'll watch him close and expect him to do it and answer the bell that comes with putting bad stuff on tape.''
Allen did not make himself available for interviews in the locker room this week either before or after practice. He was part of the club's scout-team secondary, along with Ike Taylor, Shamarko Thomas and B.W. Webb. Taylor has been inactive since breaking his right forearm Sept. 21 at Carolina. Thomas has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury and Webb was inactive last week after playing on special teams in the previous games.
Tomlin believes that Allen must regain playing time through hard work on the practice field and in meetings, but he ultimately just needs to play better when he gets into a game. That could happen as early as this week when the Steelers (5-3) face the Baltimore Ravens (5-3) on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Heinz FIeld.
"I would imagine that Baltimore is going to work to attack him, and he better work to defend himself,'' Tomlin added. "Such is life in the NFL (and) such is life at the cornerback position. ... He has to finish opportunities that he's not getting done. Often times, he's in position because he does a great job of getting in position, but position is just an element of it. You have to finish.''
Tomlin discussed Allen's struggles with 12-year veteran Taylor, who has seen it all during more than a decade on starting cornerback island in the NFL. Taylor offered his opinion on Allen as well this week.
"He's just got to fight through it,'' Taylor said. "That's the life of a cornerback. Everybody goes through it. I went through it. Deucey (No. 22, William Gay) went through it. Now, he's going through it. He's got to fight his way out. Playing corner, we've all got the physical attributes. But he's got to be mentally tough. That's the only way that you're going to fight yourself out of that."
"So, he's got to show that. We've all got his back. We're all 100 percent behind him, but that's just the life of an NFL cornerback. He's got to show, week in and week out, practice after practice. What I always tell my guys at corner is that you've got to be honest with yourself. There is no gray area when you play corner. Either you're getting the job done or you're not.''
Taylor, who returned to the practice field on a limited basis last week after after surgery to repair his injury, believes that once Allen gets past this valley in his fourth NFL season, everything should improve for him.
Allen already has proven that he has what it takes to be a starting cornerback in the league, despite being a fourth-round pick from The Citadel in 2011. He has two interceptions this year, already matching his total from each of the past two seasons, and 11 pass breakups. But that last number is low considering opposing quarterbacks throw in his direction often during a game.
"It's just that hump, man, because it's different coming in and making plays for 2-3 games,'' Taylor said. "It's different coming in and making plays when you're in nickel and dime packages. But, when you're out there 60 snaps every game, and now you become the man and these offensive coordinators start game-planning around you. It's totally different."
"You've got to be on your Ps and Qs for 60 plays, because you've got to understand that any given play can come to you. So, he just needs to lock and load. He's got to understand that. We get excited about players coming in for nickel and dime packages, but when you're on that corner for 60 plays it's a lot longer. So, he understands that, but he has to fight his way out.''
Like Tomlin, Taylor also expected Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak to go after Allen every time he's on the field.
"I would,'' Taylor said. "Until he stands up, yeah. I went through it. They saw No. 24 back in the day, they were coming at me like that. Man, I had to stand up. You don't play in the league for 12 years just to be playing. You don't have a job for 12 years just to be playing, you know?"
"You've got to be doing something. At the cornerback position, you've got to be mentally tough. (Allen) has got it, but it's just a hump. And he's got to fight on his own. He knows we've got his back, and we love him. That's how we talk. We talked about this when he came in as a rookie, and I told him."
"When Gay came in as a rookie, I told him,'' Taylor added. "I said: 'we're going to have some dog days, and we've got to be supportive of each other.' But the only way that you're going to get yourself out is by yourself. And that's what Cortez has to do this time around.''
Notes: S Ross Ventrone was the only injured player to miss practice Thursday, but DE Brett Keisel, SS Troy Polamalu and TE Heath Miller all got maintenance days off. ... FS Mike Mitchell (groin) and Taylor practiced on a limited basis (no contact), while OT Marcus Gilbert (concussion), NT Steve McLendon (right shoulder), ILB Ryan Shazier (right knee sprain), TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring) and Thomas were full practice participants and are expected to play this week.