I was happy and grateful to get to talk to with one of the best people on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, safety Will Allen. In the interview, we talk about his offseason work outside of the NFL scope, how he’s managed to stay in the league for so long, and if there’s a battle for the starting strong safety spot.
Thanks again to Will for his time and a great interview.
Q: You’ve had an active offseason with your Will Allen foundation, NFLPA externships, and your internship with 120 Sports. At 120, you hosted a segment about why players retire early. You had a lot of great input from players but why do you think players retire early?
A: I just think it’s more about the mentality of certain guys. Some of them injuries, some of them wear and tear mentally from the game and how it affects you. It’s a tough game, you have to be a strong-minded person to go in year in and year out, to keep working out, to keep dealing with the politics, to deal with everything that is handed your way.
You have to be able to keep going. Some guys make the decision to keep on, some guys play hurt and keep moving. It’s very difficult to pinpoint one way. Guys have their own reasons and we have to respect that.
Q: You’ve obviously spent a great deal preparing for your life after your NFL career. From all the experiences you’ve had, is there any one that really gripped you, that you think you really want to do after you retire? Broadcasting, business, political spectrum.
A: No, all of them were very interesting and helped me out to prepare and think about how to scale for life after. I’m going to do some more hopefully next offseason and go from there. And hopefully I’ll have enough wherewithawl to make a sound decision.
Q: Carnell Lake is one of many coaches you’ve had in your life time. But tell me something about Coach Lake that makes him unique from the rest. In any area.
A: Every coach is unique. Every coach brings different skillsets to the game. Every coach has their own experiences, whether they played or didn’t play. The thing about Carnell is he’s a very technique-minded coach. He’s all about technique and playing sound. He has a very calm demeanor. Which is good, he is able to convey his messages wisely but also lets the guys know exactly what he wants. And everybody listens. He commands the room very well. His presence gives you a sense of confidence.
He lets the guys play. He wants the guys to excel. It’s just great to be around him. Esepcially how much he knows. He knows so much. He was a Pro Bowler at two positions. All Pro at two positions. It’s pretty cool to be coached by him.
Q: Since Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retired, do you see yourself, and do other guys see you, as the leader at safety and in the secondary?
A: I always kind of led my own away. I’m sure all the other players will tell you that. I’m definitely taking more responsibility now. But I took a lot of responsibity every year. I never minimized my role, just being the backup. Whether I’m starting or being the backup it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t minimize me being a leader or being myself.
Q: Over the course of the offseason, what has been the biggest change you’ve seen in Shamarko Thomas?
A: I can definitely see he’s a lot more serious, a lot more focused. He wants to be the best. He wants to go out there and prove it. He’s going to have every opportunity to do it. And it’s going to be awesome to see what comes out of it. I think he’s going to be great.
Q: This was the only safety unit in the NFL not to record an interception last year. Is that something that gets talked about or is it just understood that number needs to rise?
A: It has to rise. I think it will this year. Will Gay got three interceptions and helped us out Cortez had [a couple]. We still gotta get more. We gotta be in the double digits. That’s going to be our goal. And safetieis have to be apart of that. If us safeties can get four apiece, whoever is going to be starting, or if we can get 8-10 ourselves, whoever is playing, for the season that’d be great.
Q: Any secret to that? Or just be in the right place, right time, that kind of stuff.
A: From the D-line to the linebackers to the secondary playing sound. We have to play more sound, more disciplined. When we play more sound and more disciplined, our mind is getting on the ball and creating turnovers.
Sometimes it’s not only just interceptions but caused fumbles. That helps us out, too. Caused fumbles and fumble recoveries. We had a few of those. Mike Mitchell had [two] caused fumbles last year. Those help as well.
Q: This is your 12th year in the league. Not a lot of guys are able to do that. What is it that’s allowed you to play for so long?
A: It’s a combination of many things. First and foremost, God giving me that ability, giving me the talent and knowledge to be able to play the game, to excel at it. Remaining relevant, staying injury free. God has blessed me more than I can imagine, more than I could’ve asked for.
Again, just staying healthy, knowing how to take care of my body, knowing my body, knowing how to train in the offseason, knowing how to train during the season. And then taking advantage of my opportunities. I think I did. If you look at the game tape, the time I’ve played in Pittsburgh, all the games I started, I helped the team win. I mean, I don’t do it in an explosive, glamorous fashion like Troy does. But him and I are two different players.
I think I help the team win. Not only just on the field but off the field, locker room, on the practice field. I think it’s more about, like I said the ability God has given me, taking advantage of opportunities. I don’t minimize my role on the team by any means. I just go out there and play my best.
Q: There are ten safeties on the roster and several young guys. Anyone who has stuck out to you in the spring? Gerod Holliman, Alden Darby, etc.
A: Nah. I think they all have their own ways of playing. All different styles. Once we get on the pads, we’ll see who can do what. Everybody looks good in shorts. Everyone can run around and look pretty, break on the ball. When the pads come on, it’s time to hit. It’s time to put everything together. Who’s going to excel then? That’ll be the challenge. But they all look good. They all look like they can play. They all have talent or else they wouldn’t be here, they wouldn’t be on this level.
Q: What is your relationship with Mike Tomlin like? What kind of coach is he to play for?
A: He’s great. A great guy. He’s reasonable. As fair as he can be. That’s all you can ask for from an organization, to be as fair as you can be. He has a unique relationship with a lot of the players. He allows the guys to go out there and be themselves and go out there and play. And players excel. He’s a really good coach to be around. He’s been to three Super Bowls, won two of them as an assistant and a head coach. So he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to manage a team well. I think that’s one thing a lot of people don’t understand. You gotta be a great manager. A great manger of personality, of character. A great leader. I think he exudes that. Everyday he steps on the field on every level.
Q: I gotta ask. Do you consider this a battle between yourself and Thomas or is the team’s goal to find out what they have in him?
A: Not sure what’s going to happen come training camp. I’m going to prepare every day like I’m the starter. I’m going to work every day. Compete and that’s all I can do. I don’t what’s going to happen. All of spring camp, Shamarko was the starter. You just gotta wait and see how it unfolds. I’m just going to go in, be prepared, and be in shape. We’ll see what happens.