I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what I am about to say is anything but a secret. Time is running out for third year backup safety Marcus Allen to prove he has NFL level abilities and solidify a roster spot with the Steelers.
A fifth round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Marcus Allen became a instant fan favorite with many members of Steelers Nation as a Penn State alum. I readily admit I was a early fan of the pick. Coupled with the Terrell Edmunds first round selection, the Steelers had doubled down at a position of great need. I wasn't entirely sold on Allen's potential to be a future starter, but I thought he could prove to be a valuable depth piece.
Honestly I was still having flashbacks of Mike Mitchell making tackles thirty yards down field, then jumping to his feet and celebrating like he had just made a tackle for a loss. Mitchell had set the bar for any future Steelers strong safety incredibly low, to the point I would have been ecstatic with any functional box safety.
Edmunds has proven to be a solid, if underappreciated, strong safety. If he continues his current career trajectory, he may just be entering his prime this season. Allen, on the other hand, is presently engaged in the fight of his professional life.
After apparently growing tired of waiting for Allen to put it all together as a professional, the Steelers drafted his potential replacement in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Steelers selected Antoine Brooks Jr. from Maryland to compete with Allen for the backup strong safety position.
Brooks has never met a tackle he didn't like and was ranked as one of the top tacklers at safety in the draft. Brooks struggles in deep coverage however, a trait he shares with Allen. Both guys are better served as box safeties, where they can make their living attacking the line of scrimmage.
Another trait shared by the two young men would be their potential as LB/S hybrid players. With the necessity in today's NFL for sub packages on defense, the creativity and versatility of hybrid players are in higher demand than ever before.
Here's a perfect example to support that statement. In the 2020 NFL Draft, I was enamored with Tanner Muse, a young safety from Clemson. Obviously I was far from the only one, considering the frequency with which he showed up on the mock drafts of the BTSC faithful. He was oozing with hybrid potential, and I thought he could fill multiple areas of need for the Steelers. Seemed like the perfect Steelers draft pick to me. Many pundits had him being drafted as late as the sixth round, but I never believed that nonsense. If I could see his immense potential to be a difference maker in today's NFL, I felt certain the Steelers needed to take him no later than the fourth round. He didn't make it that far. The Las Vegas Raiders selected him in the third round. Any remaining questions about the value of an exceptional hybrid defender were answered with Muse's selection.
Both Marcus Allen and Antoine Brooks Jr. have hybrid potential, which could bode well for their NFL futures, even if it doesn't end up being with the Steelers. Allen has the height and lanky build of a slightly undersized inside linebacker, with enough functional strength to be effective. Brooks, although three inches shorter, has excellent explosion to the ball carrier and is the superior tackler on film.
Steelers defensive backs coach Tom Bradley understands the value of hybrids, and Allen's potential to be one for the Steelers defense. “They’re very valuable in football today, especially with the way different packages come in on offense,” Bradley said. “A guy who can get in the box, Marcus can play in space. He’s really developed. He’s one of the guys this preseason that has really come forward with his game. He’s playing faster. He understands what we are doing, and because of that, we’re going to be able to do a lot of different things with Marcus."
This Steelers defense has incredible versatility in the starting backfield, with the ever elusive Minkah Fitzpatrick moving all around the field, and Terrell Edmunds only having scratched the surface of his hybrid abilities. Valued depth piece Cameron Sutton may be the most versatile weapon of them all. Sutton excels in pass coverage, whether playing on the outside or in the slot. He can even play free safety in a pinch. Now that's a hybrid.
Allen and Brooks are two intriguing hybrid prospects currently duking it out for a single roster spot, with the Steelers attempting to stash the loser on the practice squad. One things for sure, both players are working hard this training camp to make a lasting impression, so impressive in fact that a trip to the practice squad would be a risky proposition for the Steelers to make. Hybrids are a hot commodity in today's NFL.
Regardless of who wins this battle, the Steelers defense wins in the end.