The Pittsburgh Steelers outright refused to allow the “raw” label stand in describing T.J. Watt, the outside linebacker out of Wisconsin, after they selected him with their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Even though he had previously been a tight end and only converted to the defensive side of the ball a couple of years prior, they believed that his technique was fairly advanced, and he only lacked experience.
Contrast that to the way in which they discovered the athletically impressive Brian Allen, a cornerback who in spite of his natural gifts was available in the fifth round because he was indeed raw, yet again a convert from the offensive side of the ball as a former wide receiver.
The Utah product was a fringe roster candidate at first, and it’s hard to say that he would still have made the initial 53-man roster had fellow draft classmate Cameron Sutton not gotten injured. Both were on the initial 53-man roster, carrying seven cornerbacks in total, but only to allow Sutton to be moved to injured reserve with a return designation.
Allen was able to use his time on the roster wisely and had carved out for himself a regular role on special teams by the second half of the season, becoming a fixture as a gunner and a jammer on the punting units and as an occasional contributor on kick coverage as well.
Now, a year later, he is looking to prove that he can play on defense too. And he’s feeling much more comfortable there than he did at this time in 2017. He told Chris Adamski, “I feel like everything’s coming more naturally to me and I am more adapted to the defense and more used to the speed of the game”, adding, “from here on out I am looking to just keep progressing my game and hopefully get some defensive reps so I can make an impression”.
The offseason has seen the Steelers part with their most veteran cornerback in William Gay, and they have not made any further additions via free agency or the draft, so it’s easy to see a path for him to return to the roster. Right now, he sits behind Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and Sutton, with Coty Sensabaugh also in the discussion as a carryover from last year’s 53-man roster.
Allen told Adamski that it was “a big jump” to go to the NFL from playing at Utah with so little time working at the cornerback position. During the hectic and fast-moving nature of his rookie season, it was “as if you do not have time to develop”.
With a year under his belt, he has had the time to learn, and he is also doing so from a new defensive backs coach in Tom Bradley who is a fundamentalist coming straight from the college ranks, which might also be an asset for him.