Brian Allen is a 6’3”, 215-pound wide receiver-turned cornerback. So it stands to reason that he figures his physicality to be a key part of his game. And he also knows that that can be a liability for him with the way that the officiating continually polices such play from the secondary with greater stringency as the years go by.
This is something that the former fifth-round pick discussed with the team’s website earlier this month as he prepares for his third NFL season, which he hopes is the first in which he gets the opportunity to be a contributor on defense rather than being used only on special teams.
“For a guy like me that is tough, that is why I want to work on getting faster with my feet”, he said of the increased policing of physical contact in the secondary. “You see the calls that are being made, with defensive backs putting their hands on receivers, so it’s harder to cover. Little things like that to help improve my game so those calls aren’t called and my skill set is where it needs to be”.
By my count, the Pittsburgh Steelers had eight defensive holding or defensive pass interference penalties in the secondary last season, which actually isn’t too bad—only one every other game—and probably below the league average.
“It’s tough, but at the end of the day we still have to go out and play. If they call it, they call it”, Allen said of illegal contact penalties in relation to his style of play. “You can’t go out there and change your game because the ref is making that call. If you go out there and they call it, you make the adjustment on the fly”.
Young and inexperienced players in particular are more prone to getting ‘grabby’, so to speak, in part because they lack the confidence to know that they are close enough to their coverage assignment by virtue of their technique. This was an issue Artie Burns had last season. The same with Cortez Allen in his last couple of seasons while he was battling injuries.
“But you can’t completely transform your game because it will take you out of your comfort zone”, Allen said. “You can improve it, like I am going to work on with speed, but you can’t change it. You have to continue to play. If the calls are made, they are made”.
Allen had a pretty rough preseason last year, on which he allowed several big plays, but that seemed largely to be a product of his desire to make splash plays to help him make the roster. On those big plays he allowed, he was often less than a step away from making one himself.
On working on his speed and quickness this offseason, he is hoping to turn those big plays allowed into big plays made. He will be working with Tom Bradley and new defensive assistant Teryl Austin as he looks to become a defensive contributor for the first time, battling Cameron Sutton and Burns for playing time behind Joe Haden and Steven Nelson.