The switch to inside linebacker for Marcus Allen has been one of the more unexpected, but important developments at training camp for the Steelers. Not only would it shore up depth concerns for the Steelers at the position, but Allen now becomes a hybrid, versatile chess piece both in the box and at safety for the Steelers. It gives them another chip in their sub-packages as well with Allen’s physicality and speed.
That is Allen’s game this year. With great functional athleticism and an insatiable itch to always lay the hit stick down, Allen can bring the heat to still play in the box even at 215 pounds, as he revealed on Wednesday. The influence for his style play has its roots in the Steel Curtain era of the Steelers, as Allen looks to uphold the Steelers tradition of physicality.
“I’d say just the history of the Steelers defense and just having those hard-nosed players back in the day
and keeping the reputation going with the Jack Lamberts and Jack Hamms like that,” Allen said. “Every day we have
Coach [Tomlin] and Coach [Butler] always reminding us how to play football, and football is
built around hitting. That’s what it is.”
The pool report revealed an impressive day for Allen, as he made multiple plays scampering downhill to make plays in run defense. Even more importantly, he showcased his coverage ability by breaking up a pass downfield for Zach Gentry. Overall, it was a day where Allen showcased his skillset and why he was perfect for the hybrid role. Allen even discussed just why he was comfortable with the switch before practice.
“I love hitting,” Allen said. “I’ve been hitting since little league to be honest. As far as the physical part of it, I’m not too worried about that. I’m very excited about just being in the box to play and showcase my talents.”
Alex Highsmith and Chukwuma Okorafor Battle
A fun battle in one-on-one pass-rush drills was that between likely starting right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and hyped up rookie pass rusher Alex Highsmith. In perhaps the most impressive pass rush rep of the day per the pool report, Highsmith countered Okorafor’s overset for his speed rush with a nifty spin move to the inside. A concern of Highsmith’s coming out was his counters, so that is nice to see.
Mike Tomlin did order that another rep is taken, which Highsmith tried to beat Okorafor with a bull rush. However, Okorafor anchored down well and fended off the bull rush. Highsmith did not have much of a bull rush at Charlotte, so it seems he is trying to add that power element of his game to his arsenal. Okorafor took first-team reps at right tackle on Wednesday, signaling that he could be the day one starter.
James Conner Gets a Feature Back Workload
Thus far on the training camp, James Conner has been a guy who has been slightly quiet. There has not been an overabundance of reps for him, but on Wednesday with only twelve days to go until the Steelers play their first game, Conner got a hefty workload.
Scheduled to be the Steelers main running back this season, Conner has been getting revved up to a level of contact, likely out of an abundance of caution due to his injury history. The pool report details that Conner got more reps than he ever had before on Wednesday, and he ripped off consistently big gains, even if some were against the second-team defense. Tomlin acknowledged that Conner had been laid off a bit in camp so the Steelers could see their young running backs.
“We’ve removed him from some of the tackle football in terms of team run, but that’s not about him,” Tomlin said. “That’s just to get more exposure to some of the younger guys that we know less about, to check the evolution of Benny Snell, to get to know Anthony McFarland if you will.”
Terrell Edmunds Makes Plays
It has been an extremely short training camp for Terrell Edmunds, who has battled an injury for the majority of camp and is only getting back into the groove now. On Wednesday, Edmunds had a few splash plays that turned the heads of the media pool as they watched.
Edmunds knocked the ball out of Kevin Rader’s hands on a crossing route over the middle of the field. Even better, Edmunds angled a receiver out of bounds and out of the catch radius on one rep down the field. It was two key coverage plays that helped showcase Edmumds may be taking a step up in a critical third year.