I’m not sure what Pittsburgh Steelers fans love more: a big, physical running back, a big, physical outside linebacker, or a big, physical cornerback. Though Le’Veon Bell is not necessarily a ‘big’ back, he plays like one. Right now, they don’t really have that at outside linebacker—but they did in James Harrison. At cornerback?
Well, there is Brian Allen, the 2017 fifth-round draft pick who just completed his rookie season as somewhat of a redshirt freshman. A former wide receiver converted to play on the defensive side of the ball at Utah, Allen earned a roster spot by showing he can contribute on special teams, and he was a starting gunner and jammer by the end of the year, dressing regularly, even with seven cornerbacks on the roster.
“For my first year, I feel like I have definitely learned a lot, being around some of the guys”, the rookie told Chris Adamski after the season ended. The first player that he pointed out was William Gay, who knows what it’s like to climb up the ranks as an unheralded fifth-round draft pick.
Gay is the first cornerback Mike Tomlin drafted, all the way back in 2007. 11 years later, he is still contributing, and even had an interception and key forced fumble this past year as the dime back, when just a year ago he entered the season as a starter on the outside. He’s played just about every role, even the moneybacker role, and has been an important player-coach.
Allen, though also talked about veteran Joe Haden, who was brought in at the end of August and is the only one in the secondary who has been to a Pro Bowl. “Even [Artie Burns and Sean Davis]”, he said; “all those guys who have been here, teaching me the ropes and showing me everything about being a pro”.
Outside of Haden, Gay, and Mike Mitchell, though, the secondary is quite young. Burns and Davis are two-year guys. Mike Hilton, the starting nickel, just completed his first full season. Behind are Allen and fellow classmate Cameron Sutton.
Of Sutton, he said, “me and him spill our ideas off each other, how we would play certain things. Just that constant communication, you can tell that he’s all in, and I’m excited to see him continue to grow, and me and him — obviously, because we came in together — continuing to grow and be ready to go for a long time”.
Allen’s greatest asset that he displayed during his first season was his durability, a quality that allowed him to compete for a spot on the roster during the preseason. Despite that, it didn’t get him onto the field on defense.
Sutton, however, did get on the field, and, due to injuries, even started a game. The third-round draft pick is more likely to have a guaranteed role in the defense in the coming years. But it’s hard not to hold out hope for the development of a physical 6’3” cornerback.