Get to making those tin foil hats, Steelers’ Nation. Because I have a conspiracy for you.
Looking over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, the team still curiously has the #20 jersey spot still open. They’ve opted to double up other numbers – 30, 39, 42 – and every other jersey in the 20 lineup is spoken for.
Is that all coincidence or is the team keeping the door open to bring back Will Allen during camp or before the start of the regular season?
In a reserve role, the move makes sense and knowing Mike Tomlin’s love of the veteran safety, connects plenty of dots. We’ve written about how young the Steelers’ secondary depth is and the few veterans there, Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone, don’t appear to be viable options on defense.
It leaves just rookie Sean Davis to back up Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden, a tall task for a rookie. And if the team plans to expand to more dime defenses, with three safeties, depth there will be critical. And that’s something the team doesn’t exactly have.
That’s where Allen can step in. His play declined last season but he still has use as a box defender, where he played nearly 30% of his safeties snaps within eight yards in 2015. In those dime looks, Allen could play in that underneath Robber role, minimizing his coverage issues.
Allen hasn’t been a dominant, core special teamer, but even in a scenario with say, Ventrone, off the roster, Allen won’t see a serious uptick on special teams. He can get away with keeping his spot as the left wing on punt coverage and probably getting some work on the front line on kick returns.
Davis, Artie Burns, Doran Grant, Senquez Golson, and Shamarko Thomas are all players who can, or already do, act as the core special teamers. Allen’s presence won’t hamstring Danny Smith’s unit in any way.
I don’t anticipate a move being made until at least part way through camp. There’s every benefit to wait, let the other players soak up the reps, and see how the group develops. If Davis struggles, or even if he excels and compels the Steelers to use more three safety looks, bringing in Allen as a safety net, someone Tomlin respects and trusts, would give the secondary valuable depth.
And not only valuable, but actually pretty good. Say what you will about Allen but if you can go from him being the #2 to #4 name on your depth chart in a year, you’ve done a great job of improving your team.