Reliable Allen fills big shoes at safety for Steelers
November 24, 2012 10:00 AM
Will Allen, left, has been effective in filling in for injured safety Troy Polamalu this season. "What he's done is just fit into the defense == he's playing physical, he's playing fast, he's communicated well," Ryan Clark said of Allen.
By Dan Gigler Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Keenan Lewis called him a "goofball." Ike Taylor made fun of his shoes. Ryan Clark questioned whether or not he's an American, mocking his fondness for European-style clothing.
And, despite having quietly and competently stepped in to replace one of the most unique talents to play defense for the Steelers -- possibly ever -- he enters and exits the locker room each day with the bare minimum of media attention.
Will Allen might be an odd end on the Steelers defense, but he has been a stabilizing force on a unit that initially struggled to fill the void left by Troy Polamalu, as the perennial all-everything strong safety has missed most of this season with a calf injury.
"I think he's done a great job ... in Troy Polamalu's absence," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday after practice. "Allen has made a lot of tackles all over the field. ... He is just a really solid veteran and professional that can go in there, get the job done and let your defense function."
"Obviously he stepped into a tough position -- anytime you replace someone like Troy, a lot is going to be expected of you. What he's done is just fit into the defense -- he's playing physical, he's playing fast, he's communicated well. I think he's made us a complete unit. And that's all you can do when you step into a player like Troy's position -- you can't make the same plays. You've got to come in, fit in and do your job, and he's done that extremely well."
If Polamalu is a whirling dervish of kinetic activity before the snap -- all instinct and anticipation -- Allen's markedly different approach has made him a valuable asset to a defensive unit that is the league's best in overall and pass defense.
"I just play disciplined -- not that Troy doesn't -- but I try to make plays where I can," Allen said. "I'm not as risky as he is, but that's his style of play. Right now, my team doesn't need me to be Troy Polamalu. They need me to be consistent and help them to win."
"I don't think you should compare anybody to Polamalu. In my mind, he is as different as any safety I have ever seen. He can do everything," LeBeau said. "Allen has the speed and tenacity that Polamalu has. Allen has gotten to a ton of footballs and has played very well. I think Allen has his own style of play. You've all seen that it's very productive and effective."
Through 10 games in 2012, the Steelers are allowing only 169.3 yards per game in the air, 5.8 yards per pass attempt and 92 passing first downs -- all league lows. They have also allowed only two pass plays of 40 yards or more.
Since Allen's insertion into the lineup as a starter in week six against Tennessee, opposing quarterbacks have registered anemic passer ratings. The highest was a pedestrian 75.5 for Baltimore's Joe Flacco last week. Division foe Andy Dalton, rookie phenom Robert Griffin III and reigning Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning all had season lows against the Steelers, and Matt Hasselbeck and Matt Cassel also were well below their season average.
A fourth-round pick from Ohio State in '04, Allen spent five seasons in Tampa Bay before signing with the Steelers in '10. He was used primarily on special teams the past two seasons. Though he has helped make the Steelers formidable against the pass, Taylor was particularly complimentary of Allen's willingness to take on runners.
"You look at the tape as far as two hard-hitting safeties, those boys [Clark and Allen], they're willing and able to take pretty much anybody," said Taylor.
Allen said he didn't have a choice.
"There's a lot of peer pressure. The expectation is high because everybody here likes to hit and to tackle and make the opposing team feel it. So if you don't come with it, if you're missing tackles or not coming up and sticking your face in the fan, it's not a good look. That's what you've got to do to play in this defense."
He has found a way to fit in with the style of play of the secondary, but his personal style is another matter, one that's subjected him to good-natured ribbing from his teammates.
"He's just a lot different than we are. We call him 'Frenchy.' He's really European. He wears tight clothes and small suits and thinks he's really sophisticated," Clark said.
Sartorial criticisms aside, Clark added: "We enjoy having him back there. We give him a hard time, but the way he's been playing has been exceptional and has made us a better team."
Troy Polamalu was a limited participant in practice Friday, the first time he has practiced since week five. Polamalu has played in only two games this season after he injured his calf in the season opener at Denver, missed the next two games, then started Oct. 7 against Philadelphia but re-aggravated the injury early in that game. He has not played since.
Polamalu did not speak with reporters after practice. While Clark is glad to have Polamalu on the mend, he doesn't want the former All-Pro back in the lineup until he is at full health.
"We want him to play. We want to have him out there. We know what he brings to the team, both physically and emotionally. We know what kind of lift he can give us, to have him out there. But we don't want him out there if he's not healthy -- we don't want him to re-injure himself and be on the shelf longer. We want him for the stretch run, so if it takes practicing today, then getting out next week and practicing a little bit more, then that's what it takes."
Polamalu is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday.
Redman healthy, Brown iffy
Running back Isaac Redman, who was concussed in last week's game against Baltimore, said that he has passed all of his post-concussion tests and will play Sunday in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Antonio Brown, sidelined the past two games with an ankle injury, was a limited participant in practice each day this week and is officially listed as questionable for Sunday.
Other injuries: Will Allen (shoulder), Willie Colon (knee), Ziggy Hood (back) and Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring) are all probable; Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), Marcus Gilbert (ankle), Byron Leftwich (ribs) and Ben Roethlisberger (right shoulder) are all out.