It wasn't always apparent that Antonio Allen would make a significant contribution to the New York Jets after an unsure start to his professional career. The third-year defensive back was initially drafted by the Jets in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and subsequently waived and sent to the practice squad twice that year. Antonio Allen only made the active roster late in the year after multiple players including Darrelle Revis were sent to injured reserve.
It's very fortunate for the Jets that no other team elected to sign Allen off their practice squad on either occasion. Not only did Allen arguably (and technically) beat out safety Jaiquawn Jarrett for a starting position in 2013, as you just read from fearless leader John B: Allen will now start at cornerback for the Jets in the next preseason game due a recent string of injuries to the players at that position.
Antonio Allen will start at CB at Cincy. Rex: "He'll start. What the heck?" #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) August 12, 2014
Allen on playing CB: "I'm going to get out there and make some plays. I know that. I'm going out there confident and no-holds barred."— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) August 12, 2014
Hey, Antonio Allen: When was the first time you thought, "Hey, I could play CB in the NFL?" ... (Laughing) "Yesterday, probably." #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) August 12, 2014
With Calvin Pryor starting at safety this Saturday and Allen playing well at CB in practice since yesterday, the move makes sense to many observes.
Rex Ryan, for his part, seemed to take a cavalier attitude toward Allen's fast transition from safety to cornerback. At first Rex wouldn't confirm how big a role Allen would play at CB, before relenting and giving him the nod as starter:
"You know what, I think he probably will," Ryan said, smiling. "I think, what the heck? Let's put him out there."
"Well, if he can cover that kid, then he can cover them all," coach Rex Ryan said Tuesday. "I think if he can cover that kid, then we know we're in good shape because that guy is about as good as it gets. I think our entire fan base would sleep a lot better."
The kid Rex was talking about Antonio Allen covering? None other than whippersnapper A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the most talented receivers in the entire NFL. After recording interceptions against both Geno Smith and Michael Vick in Monday's practice, I suppose the next logical step is to see how Allen performs against a functional offense. Andy Dalton might not be the next Drew Brees, but when throwing to the likes of Green anybody can be a deadly quarterback.
Allen is no stranger to moving around the field throughout his football career. AA spent his first two years in college as a linebacker before moving out to safety. While he is technically a starter, his role with the Jets has been largely rotational thus far, and he pretty much slides in wherever he is needed as a defensive back. Right now, there is no doubt cornerback is probably where's he's needed.
For what it's worth, Allen's position coach in college weighed in on double A potentially playing cornerback:
Ward really liked the potential of Antonio Allen, whom he coached for three seasons at South Carolina. Ward arrived at South Carolina in 2009, Allen's sophomore season, and essentially served as his position coach. (Ward was elevated from defensive backs coach to coordinator in 2012.)
But for as much as Ward saw in Allen, he never really envisioned him playing cornerback.
"I think he was a kid who had really good hips and he was really fluid, agile kid," Ward said Monday. "But I would have to probably reach to see him play corner."
There are a few reasons Ward said it would be a "reach" for Allen to play corner.
One of Ward's reasons: He had some darn fine corners at South Carolina during Allen's time there - Gilmore chief among them. Another reason is that Allen had established himself as the Gamecocks' spur - a position that combines elements of outside linebacker and safety.
Per the Star Ledger. Although it's kind of damning that his old coach doesn't see him panning out at CB, Antonio Allen has come a long way since fighting his way off the practice squad, let alone since his days as a role player for South Carolina. You have little to lose by sticking him out there in a preseason game and seeing how things go against a game-breaking receiver.
Our beloved user Crackback recently brought you this fan post pondering the potential use of big nickel base, utilizing the teams depth at safety to mitigate losses at cornerback. This move lends weight to the idea that instead of signing players to patch up the defense, the defense may merely adjust to something that fits what it has to work with.
There's also the possibility that Rex is sending a message regarding his personnel. I'm not saying Rex would sink his teams chances or hurt his own guys to send a message to John Idzik, I don't believe that for a second and even if it were the case, Allen wouldn't be excelling at the position (in practices anyway) in response. But the media does take notice when Rex does things like this, and in turn they exert pressure on the general manager and top brass.
This move is all fine and good when there is nothing on the line and your top few cornerbacks are injured. But as the season draws closer and Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson get back to full health, expect to see Allen slide back in where he is accustomed to playing. Antonio is no doubt the sort of adaptable player you can move around in a pinch, but you wouldn't want to make a season out of it. Kyle Wilson and Darrin Walls are still capable players even if the results were disappointing last season, and ultimately the Jets should turn to them instead of a safety unused to the role.
Barring a complete breakout by Antonio Allen, this is just an experiment. I don't see it turning into a long term change. Cornerback is a finesse position, and a finesse route runner like Eric Decker seems to beat him in coverage without issue. The big nickel base has serious weaknesses that quarterbacks like the ones the Jets face this year can easily exploit. This is something I would personally be afraid to see the team utilize besides as a rotational look.