Cortez the Conquistador

By Alex Kozora
November 15, 2011

You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen.

You know Ike Taylor and James Farrior.

But do you recall the most underrated Steeler of them all?

Ok, too soon for the Christmas references? Allow me to get to my point.

Rookie Cortez Allen is not playing like a rookie "should" in this Dick LeBeau defense. And that is definitely a good thing. When the 4th rounder was selected, draftniks had to scramble for information on him. The Citadel? Sounds more like a name for the new coffee shop in the mall than a military school.

It seemed that even Carnell Lake thought Allen would be a work in progress, stating in his conference call that Allen's military obligations took a lot of time away from the football field. Try asking your drill sergeant if you can take off early for extra film study. The odds of that happening are about the same as me being able to outrun Mike Wallace in the 40.

So, watch for a year, learn LeBeau's playbook, and maybe get some time on special teams late in the year if you're lucky. Right?

Don't tell Cortez Allen that.

Just halfway through his first season, he is a starting gunner on punts and a starter on kick coverage along with getting a lot of action on defense, seeing the field in dime packages. One of his first assignments? Taking on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Did I mention Gronk is 6'7" 250? Don't see those guys at the FCS level.

Allen took on the challenge, forcing two incompletions and a solid tackle on third down, leaving Gronkowski one yard short of the marker. If you can't tackle in a Dick LeBeau defense, you'll find yourself on the fast track to the unemployment line. That isn't an area of concern for Allen. The Steelers' secondary, thought to be the biggest area of concern coming into the year, now has four solid contributors at cornerback.

He's been even better on special teams and even if it won't always show up on the scoreboard, Mike Tomlin, Al Everest, and the rest of the coaching staff have surely taken notice. On kick coverage against Cincinnati, he correctly stayed in his lane and forced return man Brandon Tate to the inside, allowing Bryant McFadden to make the tackle.

Seems easy enough, but how many times in the past have we seen 60,000 Steelers fans groaning after watching a breakdown on special teams? Kick coverage has been solid this season and part of the credit goes to players like Allen.

Previous selections at cornerback (I’m looking at you, Joe Burnett) have turned out to be nothing more than lumps of coal. It may be early, but Allen has all the makings of being a gift.

By the time Christmas is here, you'll know his name.

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