Last offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were ready to finally move on from veteran safety Will Allen as he signed in March as an unrestricted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. Allen’s time in Dallas wound up being short, however, and following his release in early October, he found himself back in Pittsburgh because of an ankle injury suffered by then-rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.
While Allen filled back in on the Steelers defense without issues last season, he’s now another year older. In addition, Thomas and third-year safety Robert Golden have both had another offseason to better themselves. With both of those things being said, the 32-year-old Allen still appears to be the first choice of the coaching staff to come off of the bench should anything happen to starters Troy Polamalu or Mike Mitchell.
Head coach Mike Tomlin seems to have a level of trust in Allen that he’s not ready to let go of just yet. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau shares Tomlin’s sentiments.
“Dick LeBeau really likes Will Allen,” wrote Dulac in his Wednesday online chat when asked if there’s any chance that Allen doesn’t make the Steelers final 53 man roster this year out of training camp.
If both Tomlin and LeBeau feel that way about Allen, then why was he allowed to run off to Dallas so easily last offseason? It couldn’t have been about money as Allen only signed a one-year qualifying contract for the minimum with the Cowboys. I suppose there’s a chance that Allen was promised to be the starter in Dallas and that led to him possibly turning down the same money from the Steelers. We may never know.
Last Saturday night in the preseason opener against the New York Giants, Allen, who started in place of a spectating Polamalu, didn’t have a great showing. While the long touchdown run by Giants running back Rashad Jennings wasn’t entirely his fault, Allen’s poor angle on the play combined with his missed tackle attempt certainly played a role in it. Sure, it was only one play in a meaningless first preseason game, but that’s the type a play someone with his experience should make.
If Allen is going to be a backup safety on the 2014 Steelers, one would think that he will have to play on special teams once again. While it’s hard to read too much into snap counts this early on in the preseason, Allen only played one snap on special teams against the Giants. It’s also worth mentioning that Allen only recorded two special teams tackles last season and only four in 2012.
We’ll see if the long time special teams warrior gets more special teams looks this coming Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills. That is if even plays, as he apparently suffered a minor hamstring injury during Wednesday’s scrimmage against the Bills.
When training camp opened several weeks ago, Tomlin spoke pretty glowingly about Allen, who he has coached dating back to 2004 when both were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“He’s what a 10-plus-year positional player should be about,” Tomlin said during his first training camp press conference of 2014. “He’s extremely low-maintenance. He’s position flexible; he plays strong, he plays free, he plays in a variety of the sub-package positions that we have—half-safety, half-linebacker, if you will. He’s a smart guy who doesn’t require a bunch of maintenance, so he has value.”
In roughly three more weeks, we’ll find out if Tomlin and LeBeau are finally ready to move on for good from Allen. If they keep him another year, it might mean that both Thomas and Golden still require a lot of maintenance and that both still don’t have the value that Allen does.