Q&A: Cortez Allen

After a strong finish to his second season, Cortez Allen has been moved into the Steelers' starting lineup. Here's what he had to say about the past, present and future:

Cortez Allen, cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: You seem to be the key guy on defense this year. Do you feel any pressure?

A: I've never been one to put pressure on myself. I try to keep as calm and positive as possible. If you're always doing your best, if you're always giving 100 percent, when the time comes there shouldn't be a change. It should be just like business as usual. You should always take each day as if you're the starter or going to be the starter, because you never know, especially how our season went last year with the injuries. So you always have to take that approach.

Q: Ryan Clark said last year that you never panic, but he joked that it's good and bad. He said it's good because you're a calm and patient guy, but when you're beat then you have to panic.

A: (Laughs) In life, when you panic, bad things happen, because when you take the thinking process out, when you take the calculated part of it out, you're dealing with fear and emotion rather than thinking it through. So I try not to panic. I try to just calm down and assess the situation.

Q: You live on Panic Island, though.

A: I do.

Q: There's a lot of instinct that in your third year should be coming naturally.

A: Still growing, though. I still feel I have a lot longer to go, and I will always feel like that. No matter how much success I happen to have in my career, I'll always feel there's something else to learn and more growing to do.

Q: You have a solid base of fundamentals and humility. What do you attribute that to? Is it your school?

A: The Citadel has a lot to do with it, and my upbringing with my mom and dad, and just life in general, has a lot to do with it. They're very hard on me about being humble and staying humble. Always. I try to hold true to that every day.

Q: Who's the most humble player on this team?

A: Troy.

Q: I told Troy last year that I thought that, but he said he's not, that Heath Miller is the most humble.

A: It's a battle.

Q: Troy said he struggles with it, while Heath is naturally humble.

A: If I had to choose another guy, if Troy wasn't here, I would say Heath. Heath is an extremely humble and hard-working guy. He's just a joy to be around. He's a tremendous person.

Q: What kind of effect has Troy had on you?

A: I learned a lot about the position, as far as playing nickel, and learning the safety role because there are a lot of things he inverts, or because Troy makes his adjustments. Just being around Troy you have to learn at a different rate. You have to broaden your vision, as far as what you can do or what's allowed in the defense or what you should learn, things like that. I ask Troy a lot of questions. Since I've been here I've been in his ear. I'm in Gay's ear. I'm in Ryan's ear. I'm in Ike's ear. I'm always in somebody's ear, trying to learn so I can better help.

Q: You credited your position coach, Carnell Lake, last year as being a big help to your career. What's he adding now?

A: He's very, very big on technique and being technique-sound and knowing what you're doing as far as just putting in that work to be better. So, this year it's a little more backed up than it was my first and second year, because I've had time to grow into the defense and learn it. But he always makes sure I try different things while continuing to stress technique. Everything else, as far as the game itself, defensively, I feel he's confident that I know what I'm doing, and then all of the adjustments and tweaks that you see Troy and Ryan do – the older guys – he's allowed me to try those a little bit and test those out now so I can utilize them.

Q: Carnell said you were ready to start last year at training camp, and that you could have. Why didn't you?

A: I have no idea.

Q: Did you feel deep down that you were ready?

A: Like I told you before, I always take that approach, to prepare that way. But that's something that wasn't in my control. What I can control is what I do on the field and how hard I work.

Q: Was there a point in the season when they told you that you were close to starting and to be ready?

A: I'm always ready. There were times they would take a safety out and put me in. There are a lot of things that happen during the course of the season that you can never foresee, so you always have to be ready.

Q: You caused five turnovers in the final two games last season. Was there one main reason?

A: (Pause) I just play (chuckles). I just play and try to do whatever I can and be as focused as possible. Things happen.

Q: In the last Steelers-Bengals game, you took A.J. Green man-to-man, and after the game Ryan Clark said that, even though the Steelers lost, you had more of an impact on the game than did Green. Would you agree?

A: It was a great challenge for me. I think he's one of the top receivers in the game. He's just an amazing athlete, as far as being able to stretch the field, get vertical, and run every route. It was a good challenge and I was able to make a few plays and he was able to make a few plays. I learned a lot from that game. By no means did I have a perfect game. Not at all. But it was a good challenge for me.

Q: Who's more difficult to cover: Green or Rob Gronkowski?

A: I would say it's a little tougher to cover A.J. Green. He can do a lot. Although Gronkowski may be bigger, and can muscle me through, it's a different situation. They're two different animals.

Q: Gronkowski's not going to run past you and score in a blink.

A: No. He's a different animal. It's a different mindset when you're covering the two.

Q: Are you doing anything different this year to prepare for the season?

A: I've always worked a lot with Ike. Our main focus this year is just working on the little things to prevent injuries, because that will be big for us this year, being able to go through the whole season and not miss one game like I did last season. It's a bigger role for me. I'm not just playing 50 percent of the snaps or so. I'm playing 100 percent of the snaps. It's a big difference, so I have to make sure that my body's prepared for that and push myself to those limits so that I know how far I can go and where I need to go.

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