The Pittsburgh Steelers made the decision last year to move Marcus Allen, drafted out of Penn State in 2018 as a safety, to the inside linebacker position. While not a shocking move, it wasn’t something that appeared to be on the horizon, and there were certainly growing pains for him his first year there.
Part of the motivation behind the move was to offer him more flexibility and a better chance of sticking to the roster, which he did. This year, linebacker is deeper than safety, but it very much appears he’s a linebacker now—and getting more comfortable doing it.
“I’m starting to get the flow of everything. I feel great being back there”, he told reporters about working in the box following today’s practice. “It’s still a physical game. Coach Jerry [Olsavsky], Rob [Spillane], and Devin [Bush] have been helping me a lot, so I feel really good”.
Of course, linebacker was deep last year, as well, with Vince Williams, Bush, and Spillane making up the top of the depth chart, along with Ulysees Gilbert III. Williams has retired, but has been replaced with rookie fourth-round pick Buddy Johnson, so they are still at least five strong.
As a bigger-bodied safety, as mentioned, it wasn’t a surprise that he could be moved up into the middle, but it did come with a series of adjustments that he had to make. One of the biggest issues he had, which he’s worked on extensively, was his hand usage against the offensive linemen.
“Last year, it was kind of new, so them getting up on me got me a little out of my game, but this year I’m trying to make more use of my hands and swim moves”, he said. “I’ve been practicing my swim move a lot this offseason and how to try to beat the backs and stuff like that”.
Due to injuries last season, Allen actually ended up playing more than 200 snaps on defense, which was slightly more than the number of snaps he saw on special teams. It’s not likely that the team will have the series of unfortunate events that led to them requiring Allen to start a couple of games this season, but if his name is called, he will be more ready for it.
And some things just stay the same, because it’s still football. Other things are even simplified. “Coming up closer to the box and making those open-field tackles is definitely easier than from the back end at safety”, he said. “But it’s still work. It’s the NFL, so everybody’s got the wiggles on them”.
With Williams’ retirement, the biggest question the Steelers have at inside linebacker during training camp is who is going to be the top backup. For the moment, it appears to be between Allen and Gilbert, though Johnson can make a push over the course of the preseason as well.