The Pittsburgh Steelers only had five cornerbacks on the 53-man roster to open the season. They didn’t even dress all of them in the opener. On Sunday, there were six cornerbacks active for the Week Five game against the Atlanta Falcons.
That number six cornerback was second-year cornerback Brian Allen, who spent all of his rookie season in 2017 on the 53-man roster, and dressed for 10 games, mostly later in the year, becoming an integral part of several special teams units.
The team chose not to keep him on the 53-man roster to start this season, spending the first four weeks on the practice squad before he was promoted after safety Nat Berhe was placed on injured reserve. He not only dressed, but played 16 snaps on special teams, second only to Anthony Chickillo.
Last season, Allen was mostly a two-phase player, serving primarily as a jammer on the punt return unit, in addition to working as a gunner on punt coverage. They started using him in all four return and coverage phases during the preseason, and he played on all four units Sunday.
While he was not particularly active on the kickoff units—the majority of which, for both teams, results in touchbacks anyway—he did a particularly good job as a gunner. On one 51-yard punt early in the second quarter, he beat a vice jam to cut toward the middle of the field, away from where he was set up, to help force a return of just three yards, giving the returner only one side of the field as an option. One could argue that he deserved credit for a tackle on the play, which was given to Jordan Dangerfield instead, who came in after him.
On another punt late in the second half, he was just beat out by Cameron Sutton, the other gunner, for a tackle on the returner right where he caught the ball, at the 11-yard line. In Allen’s defense, the punt was fielded on Sutton’s side of the hash marks.
Though on the next rep as a jammer, the gunner knocked him down before running into Ryan Switzer. And he did get beat cleanly on the first punt of the third quarter by the Falcons’ gunner as well.
His highlight of the game came late, with about four minutes to play. With the Steelers punting from the Falcons’ 39-yard line, he was able to field a Jordan Berry punt at the two-yard line. The defense would ultimately record a strip sack that went for a defensive touchdown.
Allen became a standout special teams player last year, and Sunday was a good start, but it will still be difficult for him to dress on a weekly basis. He may even lose his helmet next week assuming that Darrius Heyward-Bey returns from his injury.