The Pittsburgh Steelers are crossing their fingers and hoping that the acquisition of cornerback Steven Nelson in free agency back in March is going to go a long way toward stabilizing their secondary this year, following a season in which they ended up starting a veteran player who was a healthy scratch in Week One.
If Nelson can pair with Joe Haden as two strong starters at cornerback, that really opens up a whole new page in the playbook in terms of what the Steelers can do defensively. If you trust that your two guys on the boundary can hold position on a play, you can get a lot more creative upfront, and bring more numbers.
There is another player the Steelers are hoping can help take the secondary to the next level this season, as least from the looks of it, and that would be second-year safety Marcus Allen, who is seemingly the frontrunner for the dimebacker job this offseason.
Allen spent a brief period of time as a rookie, during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers, filling that role with mixed results. But that was only after both Morgan Burnett and Nat Berhe were injured, and Cameron Sutton was occupied with off-field concerns that week, which resulted in him not dressing. So he could jump from the number four option there to the top.
The Steelers have shown an increased desire in recent years to run their dime defense, and to run it liberally. And to do so in their preferred personnel, which features three cornerbacks and three safeties, rather than four cornerbacks and two safeties.
If you’ll recall back to the draft last year, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert talked about their decision to take Allen in the fifth round as a move for value. Even though they had signed two safeties in free agency and drafted one in the first round already, he was the highest player on their board after sitting out all of the fourth round, and they were surprised he was even available to them.
In spite of how high on him they were, he hardly even dressed as a rookie, but that was due in no small part to the fact that he dealt with a string of injuries, starting in rookie minicamp. He pretty much missed all of the spring, and then was sidelined for much of training camp as well, missing one preseason game.
The 22-year-old was not happy about spending the year on the bench and is determined to not let that happen again. His process of proving that he deserves to be on the field as much as possible in 2019 gets underway in a couple of days as the Steelers open up their OTA schedule.