Thursday, April 5, 2007

Jason Allen's Dual Role: A Gift, Not A Curse

Dolphins GM Randy Mueller recently said that Jason Allen will see playing time at both the cornerback and safety position this season. The sixteenth overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, most people believed that Allen was selected to solely to fill the free safety position. He did see limited time at cornberback during the preseason, but a holdout from training camp coupled with a steep rookie learning curve set him at a distinct disadvantage throughout the season. During the regular-season, Allen played mostly on special teams and as a reserve safety.

In the wake of Mueller's statement, many people have quickly denounced Allen as a bust, arguing that he isn't filling the need that the team drafted him for and that the coaches are struggling to fit him into two positions. They say this is happening because he cannot excel at either safety or cornerback, and thus he can only be average at best. The fact is that Allen played both cornerback and safety in college, and he even preferred playing corner. In the limited game action he saw last year, he was able to show glimpses of what seems to be significant potential.

It must also be noted that at this point, the safety position seems to be in relatively good shape. That was not the case, however, at the beginning of last season. Renaldo Hill turned out to be one of the biggest surprises in the secondary as he stepped up and became the most consistent player in the whole unit. Also, after Travares Tillman was finally benched in favor of Yeremiah Bell, the team finally found a legitimate play-maker in the secondary. With Hill at FS and Bell at SS, maybe there isn't that strong of a need to force Allen into one of those positions. Cornerback presents a much more cloudy picture, and Allen's use in that department may very well help the team at a position of greater need. Among Will Allen, Andre Goodman, and Travis Daniels, the team has three solid corners, but no one standout player. Will Allen will most likely lock down one starting corner position, and given the reps in training camp, perhaps Jason Allen could push for the opposite starting corner. Although that situation seems unlikely, even if Jason found his way into the rotation as the team's nickel-back, he would still see significant playing time.

The most important point to consider, however, is one that ESPN writer Len Pasquarelli writes about in his recent article - versatility in the secondary is the newest defensive trend, one that teams will need to heed if they want to succeed. He writes:
A priority for every defense now is a safety with some cornerback-type cover skills, a guy who can move out and take on a wide receiver aligned in the slot. And coaches are again seeking cornerbacks who can come up in press coverage and play man-to-man.
He mentions the increase in no-huddle offenses and audibles at the line of scrimmage force defensive units to make due without many substitutions. In this type of game, a defensive player with versatility who can easily play multiple positions becomes a counteracting force. With Jason Allen's ability to play both safety and corner, the Dolphins would have the ability to adjust on the fly without having to substitute for him. So, even if Jason Allen doesn't emerge as a starter this season at either safety or cornerback, his ability to be the third safety in the rotation as well as seeing time at corner will be an important asset for this team. Don't write him off yet as a bust. Let's remember that he is merely entering his second season in the NFL. He has shown some exceptional athletic abilities and his role as a starter will eventually come. For now, the versatility he provides must be appreciated rather than criticized as a defect.

No comments: