By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Will Allen originally was signed to the Steelers roster in March to be a backup safety and special-teams ace, but the seven-year NFL veteran should get a rare start against the Broncos Sunday at 8 p.m. in Denver.
While it hasn’t been officially noted by the Steelers, it’s highly unlikely that starting free safety Ryan Clark will play the club’s third preseason game due to the altitude level in Denver. Clark played in a game there in 2007 and needed spleen and gall bladder surgery to save his life. Clark missed a Monday night game there last season.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, most definitely,” Allen said Monday. “To roll with the starters, they’re a close-knit group, and I’m new to the team. So, to be able to play with those guys and get an opportunity to play a lot of snaps with them, it’s going to be a great opportunity to be part of that.
“(So), I’m just ready to do whatever the coaches ask me to do. Whether it’s in a starting role, as a backup or a special teams ace. Whatever it is, I’m willing and ready to do it. (And) I can’t wait to get that chance this week.”
While Allen has been a solid starter in the league, he’s made a mark on special teams as well and was particularly effective on coverage teams during Mike Tomlin’s tenure as the secondary coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the Steelers against the New York Giants this past Saturday night, Allen had two solo tackles in the base defense and one on special teams.
“I definitely feel like a leader,” Allen said. “We’ve got some young guys, some young rookies and second-year players who need to learn how to play special teams in this league. It’s different than it is in college. I played at a high level in Tampa. I was a two-time captain there, so I want to bring that to this team.
“We played better (against the Giants) than we did the week before, but there’s always room for correction,” Allen said. “We did show some improvement, so I’m looking for big things from these guys. We’ve got a lot of athletic guys on our team (like) Keyaron Fox, he’s a monster who plays very hard and fast.”
While Fox and Allen are among the most senior players on special teams for the Steelers, if James Harrison doesn’t play there, there also are some young players like Thaddeus Gibson, Frank Summers, Isaac Redman, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders still have a lot to learn.
“It takes time to recognize and play fast on the go on special teams,” Allen said. “It takes time to grow into that role and maturate into it.
“You can see flashes of it last week, guys playing faster and recognizing things much quicker. But it just takes time, and once they get more games under their belts they’ll be a lot better.”
And if the regular guys can’t make a play, there’s always punter Daniel Sepulveda as the last line of defense.
“I heard he was a former walk-on linebacker at Baylor,” Allen said. “He’s like 220 (pounds) back there, so … he did real well. I’m glad he saved that play. He beat a block, made a play and put his hand in the guy’s chest. So, Danny’s a great athlete, and I’m glad to have him back there as our punter.”
Steelers third-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons is expected to have a breakout season from his starting spot next to James Farrior, but he’s glad to have a veteran like Allen behind him in the secondary this week.
“Will Allen is a great player, and he made a lot of good plays for us in the last game,” Timmons said. “I can’t wait to see him out there.”
It’s been said that learning the Steelers’ defense is about as difficult as it gets, but Allen appears to have picked things up rather quickly now that the preseason is under way.
“Going through training camp and going through OTAs … just seeing the game at a quicker pace, I’m definitely playing the game at a lot quicker pace than I did against Detroit,” Allen said. “Understanding the scheme better and what the coaches want you to do, I just execute better and try to play hard and fast.
“I’ve been in Tampa, and they play the Tampa-two, which is like a cover defense. The defense is more of a read-and-react here, but it allows you to be a little more flexible because of the three-four and because of the style of play that Coach LeBeau asks from his safeties. So, there are some similarities.
“But there also are some differences, too,” Allen added. “Initially, it was a little tough for me to learn, but I’m starting to pick it up better every week. I’m understanding the concepts, but it’s a growing process. And as long as you play fast and play physical, everything else will fall into place.”
Notes: The Steelers re-signed long snapper-linebacker Matt Stewart to a contract and cut wideout Isaiah Williams to make room for him. He originally was released July 30 when Maurkice Pouncey and Flozell Adams were signed.
Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins signed former Steelers Safety Tyrone Carter and FB Carey Davis today.