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Steelers' Allen provides steady presence in Polamalu's absence

Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers defensive back Will Allen with run support against the Giants at MetLife Stadium Nov. 2012.

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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 1:01 a.m.
 

Will Allen wasn't the first choice to replace the injured Troy Polamalu at strong safety. If his ego was bruised, it didn't show.

The nine-year veteran admits he struggled earlier this season: He missed tackles. He missed assignments. At times, he was missing in action.

He didn't hang his head when Ryan Mundy stepped into the starting lineup opposite free safety Ryan Clark after Polamalu bruised his calf in the season opener. Allen understands his role in the NFL's top-ranked secondary.

Yet when the defense needed a boost after Polamalu aggravated his calf against Philadelphia, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and secondary coach Carnell Lake hedge their bets on Allen. They figured experience would trump athleticism.

So far, they have proven to be right.

“I am getting more comfortable, and I'm starting to understand what guys need and what is expected of me,” said Allen, who had three solo tackles and two assists against the Giants last weekend. “I'm having a lot of fun running around hitting guys.

“Coach LeBeau has involved us (defensive backs) in the run game a lot. We pride ourselves on making tackles.”

Allen can expect to see plenty of action Monday night when the Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field. The Chiefs, led by running back Jamaal Charles, have the third-ranked ground game in the league with an average of almost 150 yards per game.

The Chiefs have struggled to throw the ball with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, owning the 25th-ranked passing offense.

“Our defensive backs aren't afraid to tackle,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “Will has been behind the 8-ball playing behind Troy and Ryan (Mundy), but he's not getting money to be a backup.”

Allen remains somewhat vulnerable in pass coverage, but he's been as effective, if not better against the run, than Polamalu, who could return Nov. 18 against the Ravens. The Giants rushed for only 68 yards, in part, because Allen tripped up blockers or funneled runners back to linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Foote.

“Will knows the defense,” Timmons said. “The safeties look at a lot of film and pay attention to the tendencies of offenses and it's helping them make plays at the line of scrimmage.”

Allen, who made only two starts the previous five seasons, has settled in after an uneven start. He hasn't been spectacular, but consistency and tenacity is what LeBeau needed from the Ohio State product.

“It's just the way he plays,” said nose tackle Casey Hampton. “That's why a guy like that is in the league. He's a smart guy, and he's aggressive.”

Allen is cautious, too. He's warning teammates to keep their hands up against the talented but mistake-plague Chiefs.

“They have a lot of explosion plays over 20 yards,” he said. “We have to cause some confusion, but we have to tackle, tackle, tackle.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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