Steelers safety Will Allen intercepts a ball intended for the Lions' Calvin Johnson in the fourth quarter at Heinz Field last week.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Play long enough in the NFL and it's bound to happen. The coach calls you into his office and tells you your services are no longer needed.
For many, the experience of being cut comes in their first training camp. For Will Allen, it came in his 10th season in the NFL, and it happened after the fourth game of a season he opened as a starter.
Allen, who signed a free-agent contract with Dallas in the spring after three seasons with the Steelers, was cut by the Cowboys Oct. 8.
"I didn't really worry about it," Allen said. "I have very strong faith. Whatever is meant to happen is meant to happen. Obviously, I was upset because I had never been cut before, but my faith really kept me level-headed on what's more important. It didn't faze me as much."
Allen didn't have much time to contemplate unemployment. He was in Pittsburgh the day after he was cut to work out for his old team, and signed the following day.
Brought in to add depth in the defensive backfield, the re-acquisition of Allen paid off handsomely for the Steelers last Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Allen forced a fumble in the first half that led to a field goal and intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter to set up the Steelers' final touchdown in the 37-27 victory.
"It's good to throw Will Allen back in the fold with us because it doesn't slow anyone down," veteran safety Ryan Clark said. "You can call everything in the playbook. It was getting someone we were comfortable with, the coaches were comfortable with, that allows us to do certain things on the field that we weren't able to do when we were playing younger players in those positions.
"Now, there are four of us out there who can play four different positions. It's been purely about football, that's the best thing about having him back. The way he plays the game and the way he allows the rest of us to play the game."
Allen played only on special teams in his first four games back with the Steelers. When rookie safety Shamarko Thomas injured his ankle early in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills, Allen stepped into his role in the dime defense.
Allen played 32 snaps against the Bills and had one tackle and two quarterback hurries. He played 69 snaps last week as the Steelers stayed in their dime defense for most of the game against the pass-oriented Lions. In addition to the forced fumble and interception, Allen contributed seven tackles.
It's not that Thomas was underperforming when playing in the dime, but Allen's previous experience with the Steelers has allowed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to open his defensive playbook.
"You've got a guy who has been with us before and really practically started all of last year for us," LeBeau said. "It's always good to have a good veteran, experienced guy back there."
Allen started seven games for the Steelers last season, filling in for Troy Polamalu when he missed the middle part of the season with a calf injury.
Allen signed with the Cowboys because he had a chance to be a starter. He earned a starting job and intercepted a pass in the season opener, but lost his starting position by the third week of the season and was released after the fourth game.
A few other teams wanted to sign him, but when Allen heard the Steelers were interested he made a quick decision.
"I knew I wanted to be back here," he said.
Allen originally joined the Steelers in 2010 after six seasons in Tampa Bay. He proved to be a valuable special teams player his first two seasons, but it wasn't until Polamalu's injury last season that he received an extended opportunity to play on defense.
With Thomas ruled out again this week, Allen figures to play a regular role in the defense in Cleveland.
"He has intelligence, experience and he plays the game extremely hard," Clark said. "The plays he made on the field against Detroit, those are important. It's about production. He's allowed us to have more flexibility in play-calling. It's allowed us to have difference packages and put people in different places because of his understanding of the defense, understanding football on the whole because of how long he's played. He's been a true asset to have him back."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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