Kevin Gorman: Steelers' Brian Allen a play away from standing out
The Pittsburgh Steelers are getting to the point in the preseason where players on the bubble of making the 53-man roster have to solidify their status as backups and special-teams standouts.
All Brian Allen knows is that he’s starting on three special teams units when the Steelers play the Tennessee Titans at 4 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field, so the second-year cornerback understands what he needs to do.
“When my name’s called, I’ll be able to go in and do what I do,” Allen said. “Make some plays.”
Allen stood out last week for the play he didn’t make against the Green Bay Packers, allowing an 82-yard touchdown pass from DeShone Kizer to receiver Jake Kumerow in the 51-34 loss at Lambeau Field.
On a second-and-9 at the Green Bay 18 at 9:53 of the third quarter, Kizer ran a play-action fake and threw a pass toward the Packers sideline. Allen took a bad angle, leveraging too far inside, and stretched his right arm — his outside hand — in an attempt to break up the play.
Despite Allen tipping the ball, Kumerow caught it at the 29 and then cut inside and ran past safety Nat Berhe. Kumerow outran Berhe and linebacker Matthew Thomas to the end zone.
The play was brought up by both Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in a team meeting and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley in a position meeting, something Steelers players often dread. But Allen learned a valuable lesson, showing how technique can trump talent.
“It was a man play, and I tried to come under it. If you come under the play, you have to make it because you’re putting the safety in a bind,” Allen said. “They talked about it. It was a minor technique issue.
“I came with the wrong hand. I should have come with the other hand. Even with the wrong hand, I still tipped the ball. If I’d gone with the left, I would’ve broken the pass up. They said my hips were fluid, that I had good eyes on the play but a minor technique issue. If I get that corrected, it goes from a touchdown to a pass breakup.”
Making minor technique corrections has been a focal point for Allen this offseason. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was considered a project when the Steelers drafted him on the fifth round last year out of Utah, where he started 12 games in four seasons but had four interceptions as a senior.
After spending much of his career as a receiver, Allen might be raw. But he has Mel Blount size for a cornerback and combines 4.4-second speed and smarts (he graduated with a degree in human development and family studies and another in economics). Allen could be a lump of coal or a diamond still smoothing out the rough edges, which is why the Steelers are showing patience with him.
Such talk, however, serves as his motivation.
“Last year, I read a lot of things about how they drafted me on potential,” Allen said. “I used that as fuel. I know I can play in this league and I want to go out there and prove it.”
That’s why Allen spent the offseason working on his weaknesses, staying after practices to do ladder work to improve his quickness and concentrating on improving his backpedal and tracking the ball. Allen and Coty Sensabaugh switch sides every day so that he can work on developing his weak side as much as his dominant hand.
But Allen is behind starters Joe Haden and Artie Burns and is competing with Sensabaugh, Cameron Sutton and Mike Hilton for playing time. Allen knows he can’t control how much he plays, so he keeps in mind the advice of a former coach: Don’t count your reps. Make them count.
“This offseason, I knew the things that I wanted to specifically work on, so I was out there every day,” Allen said. “I would come here and lift weights. On weekends, I was out there working in my yard — on my hips, my hands, my eyes, little things that the coaches saw last year that wasn’t really fluid, that I could come in and improve on this year. I’ve been getting good feedback from my coaches and even my teammates. Some of them say, ‘You look a lot better than last year.’ I want to just go out there and improve every day. ”
Allen knows where to start: by making some plays.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.