While the Pittsburgh Steelers have made major apparent concessions in recent years with respect to giving rookies and young players opportunities to get on the field and contribute, the one area in which they have not made exceptions is for young players who are not on the practice squad.
That is one of the major reasons that 2018 rookies Marcus Allen at safety and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi combined for about 30 or so snaps during their first season in the NFL. Allen missed most of the offseason, even going back to rookie minicamp, with injuries, and Adeniyi was on injured reserve for most of the regular season.
The accumulated time missed left them trying to jump on to the moving train, to invoke a Tomlinism, but regardless of their lack of opportunities, the Steelers have stayed with these players, driving them into the 2019 season.
“Coach Tomlin always told me to stay ready, even if you’re not up stay ready so you don’t have to get ready”, Allen told the Steelers’ website recently. “That’s what I tried to do all season. I made sure I took notes in every meeting just so I could stay ready when my number is called. And every time my number was called, I made sure I did my job”.
Allen was a healthy scratch for 14 of the 16 games of the 2018 regular season, serving as the sixth safety for much of that time until Nat Berhe was placed on injured reserve. Even when Morgan Burnett was injured, the rookie had difficulty dressing.
His opportunity to get on the field ultimately came late in the season when not only were both Berhe and Burnett out, but so too was Cameron Sutton, the second-year cornerback who was being used as a dimebacker with the injuries. And so he got some fourth-string dimebacker snaps against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Why? Not because the Steelers desperately needed him, but because he heeded Tomlin’s advice and he stayed ready. When the opportunity arose, he was available to take hold of it. And not simply his playing time but his ability to keep himself engaged while standing on the sidelines will only further his coaches’ belief in his ability to be a contributor in 2019.
Which may well end up seeing him as their ‘starting’ dimebacker, with both Berhe and Burnett gone. The Steelers prefer to use a safety in that role, and Tomlin even talked about Allen by name as a candidate to serve in that role during the draft.
It’s rare that Tomlin says something like that idly, so if he went out of his way to mention Allen, it was because he wanted the player to let him know. There is an opportunity for you this year. Stay ready for it so you don’t have to get ready for it.