As it turns out, it didn’t take long at all for Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-round rookie cornerback Brian Allen to get his first helmet. All it took was three injuries to make it happen. With Stephon Tuitt, J.J. Wilcox, and Vance McDonald all sitting out yesterday with injuries, he was one of the beneficiaries.
Given that there were no other safeties or tight ends to dress, those who dressed yesterday in place of the injured would have to be taken from other positions, and Allen was among those, dressing as the sixth cornerback. While he did not play on defense—they already have four cornerbacks playing—he did see time on special teams, and was actually able to make an impact.
His first snap, as far as I can tell, came midway through the second quarter on a Steelers punt. He actually served as the lone gunner on the play, and the Vikings pitted him against two jammers. He did well pushing the issue down the field and using his own physicality to counteract theirs. He nearly chased down the returner himself, but it was a nice play all around, especially for his first NFL snap.
On the Steelers’ next punt attempt, they moved to a one-gunner look again, this time with Allen kicking inside for protection and Darrius Heyward-Bey on the opposite end facing a pair of jammers. They initially moved inside too before moving back, which prompted the wide receiver to gesture with his hands as if to say, ‘bring it on’. He promptly beat both of them and forced a fair catch.
Both of them got down the field in a hurry on the next punt, Allen and Heyward-Bey together standing right in front of the returner as he had no choice but to settle for a fair catch inside his own 10-yard line. It is interesting that the Steelers did not even use Allen at all as a gunner during the preseason, but rather as a jammer.
He did get work in that role in the second half, however, covering the left gunner on a punt from midfield at the very end of the third quarter. Teaming with Heyward-Bey, who was playing the offensive left-center region, they did a fair job slowing the gunner down.
Obviously, though, the rookie’s highlight play came later on a Steelers punt about five minutes into the fourth quarter. Punting from about the 37, Allen as the left gunner was able to get down the field quickly to turn and locate the ball, deftly fielding it off a bounce to down it at the one-yard line.
I argued during the preseason that the elements he showed on special teams through those four games was what was ultimately going to win him a roster spot. Should he continue to make the most of his opportunities to play in that area of the game, then perhaps he can even manage to win himself a semi-regular helmet on game days this season. It’s certainly preferable to using their starting cornerbacks as gunners and jammers.