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Antonio Allen's Last Dollar

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Allen's work during the offseason caught the attention of new head coach Todd Bowles.

He’s athletic. In shorts and a t-shirt he runs around well. He has a passion for the game and he’s a very brash guy which is a good thing in football. You need some swagger.

Something else he said about Allen caught my attention.

On whether he envisions using Allen on the line or off the ball…

Both of our safeties are going to be up and back. It’s going to be a mixture, honestly. He’s athletic enough to play up front and he’s tough enough to play up front, but he is a versatile guy. He can do a lot of things.

Much was made of the ill-fated decision to try Allen at cornerback a year ago. Many called Allen a cornerback converted from safety. That wasn't really true, though. Allen was really a convert to the safety position as a pro. In college, he had played a position that was like a hybrid between linebacker and safety.

A year ago in Arizona, Todd Bowles was left with a quandary at the linebacker position. Karlos Dansby defected in free agency to Cleveland, and Darryl Washington was suspended for the season. One of his solutions was to play his first round pick, Deone Buccannon, a 216 pound, safety in what amounted to a linebacker role. They called it the dollar linebacker. To some extent, the idea Bowles loves playing nickel(tm) can be traced to his use of Bucannon.

Here is how the Cardinals' official website described his role in October.

So far, Bucannon has played a ton – 228 snaps on defense through five games. Not once, Bucannon said, has he been lined up as a traditional safety. He has embraced the role, craving both the chance to hit someone on every play – his favorite part of the game – and the ability to play a lot as a rookie.

By the end of the season, Pro Football Focus estimated Bucannon lined up in the box of 98.2% of run snaps in which he participated.

I wonder whether this might be a role Bowles has in mind for Allen.

Again, one of the things to remember about Allen is that he is new to the traditional safety position, and he has really struggled with a lot of the coverage concepts. At a linebacker spot, it is easier to protect a player in pass coverage. The safety has to cover a large swath of the deep part of the field if not the entire thing. The safety also has to identify and cover mistakes from others to prevent touchdowns. Linebackers tend to cover a smaller part of the field and have that help waiting for them deep. It is a more simplified task.

Players in linebacker roles can be asked to cover a condensed part of the field. A year ago, David Harris only allowed 38 receptions for 329 yards in coverage in 481 snaps. Do you think that more is because Harris is an athletic cover linebacker or because the Jets could limit his responsibilities?

The idea of replacing a linebacker with a defensive back is making a trade. It is sacrificing size for speed. This is the type of trade that makes sense for the Jets the way they are constructed. That is the entire point of having all of these great 300 pounders on the defensive line. Their job is to dominate and prevent the offensive linemen from getting to the second level of the defense. A smaller safety is going to have trouble disengaging from blocks, but the job of the linemen is to prevent those blocks from ever reaching the safety.

In exchange for that, the smaller guy should be able to be able to cover more ground as Bucannon did and add extra plays on defense.

This is a big season for Allen's career. It is the final year of his rookie deal, and he has not put together a resume that guarantees him an NFL future beyond this season.

I am not sure whether Allen would succeed in this role. For a safety, he is not particularly fast, and his coverage skills have real holes in him that make it unclear whether he can even hold up at a linebacker spot and reduced responsibilities.

I think a role like this might be his best chance. It would take him back to concepts he is relatively familiar with and helped him get drafted. As Bowles showed a year ago, one way to compensate for not having good three down linebackers is to add extra speed. I cannot say I am certain Allen would perform this role well, but I think if he is going to turn himself into a quality piece on this defense, it will likely be functioning in this manner