With Dick LeBeau now leading the defense in Tennessee, the Pittsburgh Steelers have tinkered around with a Cover-2 scheme under Keith Butler this offseason. Although there have been positives to draw from the experiment, the play at the safety position has left much to be desired.
Starting free safety Mike Mitchell has yet to play in a preseason game this summer. Furthermore, starting strong safety Shamarko Thomas is finally seeing extended snaps with the first team since his rookie campaign. Thomas and other backups have had issues in coverage as well as reading their keys’ this preseason, and it definitely showed during last week’s game versus Jacksonville.
I am confident that Thomas and his teammates at the position can bounce back and improve over the course of the 2015 season as they gain more experience in the new defensive scheme. However, I believe that the Steelers should turn to veteran Will Allen if their personnel collectively struggle over the coming weeks.
Although many in this fanbase want to see the defense employ more athletic personnel, one cannot dismiss how much the 33 year-old safety can help Pittsburgh’s secondary. Remember, Allen has been playing in a Cover-2 base defense for much of his 11-year NFL career.
His first six years in Tampa Bay were spent with of the best Cover-2 defensive coordinators of his era, Monte Kiffin. In addition, his defensive backs coach during two of those seasons was Mike Tomlin. After three years with the Steelers under Dick LeBeau, Allen spent half of the 2013 season with the Dallas Cowboys under Kiffin before he was cut and signed with the safety-needy Pittsburgh.
Allen played significant snaps for Troy Polamalu last fall (four starts, 36 tackles), and has been a solid special teams player during his 74 regular season games with the Steelers. While he does not possess the type of athleticism as a Thomas or an Alden Darby, Allen understands the Cover-2 defensive scheme far better than his younger teammates and could be a tremendous asset for his team once more. He knows where he is supposed to be on a play-by-play basis, and how to minimize mistakes on the back-end.
Pittsburgh’s offense has the talent to be a juggernaut this fall, so the team does not need to employ a dominant defensive unit like they had in 2008. Yet big plays have plagued the Steelers’ defense over the last few seasons, and eliminating them will be key for the 2015 version of their secondary.
Will Allen could be a resource for his new defensive coordinator if things go sour during the early stages of the regular season. Thus, I will be interested to see how much he can contribute if he is indeed called upon by his coaching staff.
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