The Pittsburgh Steelers were really high on Marcus Allen, a safety from Penn State, coming out of the 2018 NFL Draft. They liked him so much that they pounced on him when he was available at the top of the fifth round, in a year in which they did not have a fourth-round pick.
It was also a year in which they signed two safeties in free agency and use a first-round pick on the position. They also retained one starter at the time in Sean Davis and a solidified special teamer in Jordan Dangerfield. In other words, it was hard to see where he would even fit on the 53-man roster.
They did fit him in, even though he dealt with injuries throughout the process, even if he played little. It seemed they’d soured on him in year two in 2019 when he didn’t make the 53, in favor of first-year college free agent Kameron Kelly, as one of just four safeties. He didn’t get called up until late in the year when Kelly got arrested.
But he told reporters even back then that head coach Mike Tomlin was always in his ear motivating him, and said that that helped to keep him going, keep him fired up, keep him putting in the work every day so that when the day would come that his chance arises, he would be ready to seize it.
One position switch to linebacker and one season later, it appears that that chance has finally arrived, at least following injuries to Devin Bush and Ulysees Gilbert III, a pair of second-year linebackers. Bush was the full-time starter and an every-down player. Gilbert played in the dime after Bush was injured.
Now Allen is the dime linebacker, replacing Robert Spillane and Vince Williams on the field, and this has been the case for the past three games now with no signs of that changing. He played a career-high 20 defensive snaps in that dime look on Sunday. On Thursday, he was asked about how Tomlin kept him motivated.
“He’ll always just be in your ear, basically saying, just keep working, your opportunity could come at any second, so just stay on it every day and never take a day off”, he said. “Therefore, like for me, in practice, I always went hard, whether I was on scout D or I was getting opportunities getting first-team reps sometimes”.
Allen was also asked about Tomlin’s tendency to have individualized motivational tools for players and nicknames and phrases that he would use. The third-year safety had to clean up the schtick that his head coach has for him.
It goes back to a preseason game during his rookie year, when he was making plays in the fourth quarter, he said. At one point during the game, after making a play, he got excited, and was telling his opponent to come ‘mess with me’—only in less tasteful parlance.
He told reporters that Tomlin always says that when he walks by him in the locker room. And it’s perfect, in my opinion. Both of them know exactly what it means, and it builds that relationship. That’s how he builds to moments like Sunday.