Cortez Allen has gone from starting cornerback to nickel back to spectator in the span of three games, a fall from grace that lacks long-term implications but clouds the picture in the secondary as the Steelers prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens.
"I was doing what I felt was necessary for us to win the football game," Coach Mike Tomlin said of replacing Allen with Antwon Blake as the sub-package cornerback in the second half of Sunday's 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts. "But it has no bearing in terms of what I think (Allen is) capable of largely or in the long term."
In the short term it's uncertain what role Allen might play against Baltimore.
Tomlin publicly has maintained confidence in Allen, who was signed to a five-year, $26 million contract just before the regular-season opener against Cleveland. But Tomlin also has enlisted the counsel of injured cornerback Ike Taylor in an effort to get Allen's arrow pointing up again.
"I talk often with Ike about Cortez's situation because (Taylor) has lived it," Tomlin said.
In 2006 Taylor survived what Allen currently is enduring, when Bill Cowher pulled Taylor from the starting lineup with six regular season games remaining. He eventually got his starting job back for the season finale against Cincinnati.
"You gotta be ticked off about that," Taylor said, "but at the same time you have to re-prove yourself.
"I figured I wasn't playing well enough to start, the coaches gotta to do what they gotta do. It was hard checking the Randy Mosses, the Marvin Harrisons, all those guys. Some games weren't going to be good games for me and I understood that. My team rallied around me, the guys rallied around me, and I bounced back. But I have a fighter's mentality."
Taylor maintains Allen, a fourth-round pick in 2011 who started a career-high eight games last season, has that same fighter's mentality. But Taylor also knows there's only so much anyone can do for Allen to help him through his struggles.
"I need that go-go gadget back," Taylor said. "I need that reason why we gave Cortez $26 million. I need that reason why Cortez is probably one of the best bump-and-run corners. But Cortez has to play like Cortez. Cortez has to know he's that guy. So relax, stop thinking too much. Don't worry about what people say. Know the guys in the locker room have your back and just get back to being you.
"He has to fight his way out of it. Nobody can help Cortez but Cortez. All we can do is support him."
In advance of the Steelers game vs. Houston on Oct. 20, Allen had this to say about his changing status in advance of Brice McCain being moved into the starting lineup and getting demoted to nickel back:
"This makes me work a little harder, but in no way am I deterred as far as becoming better for this team. I just have to put in more work at becoming consistent. I gotta clean up some of my technique, technical errors, and overall just be a better player for this team so that we can win games."
Added Taylor, "What you have to do is go back out on the field and show the coaches, show your teammates, 'Hey man, that wasn't anything but a slap on the wrist right there.
"Just the life of a cornerback, that's how it is. It's the same way being a quarterback. They'll praise you one week. The next week you throw a couple of picks, man, you're not that good. Cortez has to figure that out. Playing cornerback, you have to be mentally strong."