New Buc S Will Allen has the cover skills of a cornerback
Mike Tomlin began studying Ohio State safety Will Allen in depth in February, before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent their contingent of scouts and coaches to the NFL combine.
A few weeks later, Tomlin personally attended the Ohio State pro day to watch Allen's workout and get some background information from the player's Buckeye coaches.
On Saturday, during the first day of the 2004 NFL Draft, Tomlin watched Allen slip through the first three rounds and 96 picks overall.
So, when Sunday morning rolled around and the Bucs geared up for Day Two of the draft, Tomlin had his eye on a particular name at the top of the players remaining on Tampa Bay's prospect board. Fifteen picks later, Allen was still on the board and, to Tomlin's delight, the Bucs pulled the trigger.
If Allen indeed 'fell' past the expert's predictions for his draft spot, it was to the Bucs' benefit.
"I never really get into how other people see it," said Tomlin. "I knew that we liked him, and if the opportunity presented itself we were going to jump on him. Thankfully, he was there."
Like their selection of Washington linebacker Marquis Cooper in the third round on Saturday, the pick of Allen spoke to an issue of depth on the Bucs' defense. Having released John Lynch and promoted third-year man Jermaine Phillips to the starting lineup at strong safety, the Bucs felt the need for an infusion of youth and talent in the secondary. Allen gives the team a player who Tomlin is eager to see develop in the Bucs' system, much as Phillips has done the past two years.
"Just from a pure numbers standpoint we needed another guy to go into the mix," confirmed Tomlin. "Will (Allen) more than meets the criteria. He is a versatile guy, a man-coverage guy, active, he shows natural instincts and plays hard. (He's a) program guy, of course. The success that that program's had speaks for itself, but you like guys who have experienced some success and know what it's about, know what it's about to compete for championships. He can call on that life experience, because that's going to be our standard. So we're excited about him."
Though he was a safety for the Buckeyes, Allen displayed the coverage skills of a cornerback, playing in Ohio State's nickel package as the extra corner. He had a key interception against Michigan State in 2002 to preserve Ohio State's unbeaten season en route to a national championship. Those man-to-man skills should allow him to compete for a significant role in the Bucs' secondary this year.
(On taking over for other strong starters at safety at Ohio State) "He was a nickel back for them, and that speaks to his versatility," said Tomlin. "He was a backup safety who they played at the nickel cornerback position when they had two older guys who were good players. You could tell that they had an emphasis on getting him on the field. He was versatile and he made himself valuable by being able to do a lot of things. He was able to get on the field, and then when he had the opportunity to be the man, he was."
Allen became a starter in 2003 and more than lived up to expectations, earning first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He proved to be a hard-hitter, an instinctive player and a great cover man. His lack of starting experience before 2003 did not discourage the Buccaneers.
"There are examples of guys who are one-year starters," said Tomlin. "There are a bunch of those kinds of stories. The guy's been on the field, not necessarily as a starter, but he's been a player for them. And, of course, the nickel situation – in crunch time, people have three wideouts on the field, so he's played a bunch of football for them. He was just not necessarily one of the first 11 that ran onto the field."
Even if Allen doesn't play much in the Bucs' secondary as a rookie, he is almost certain to make an impact on special teams, an area the team is determined to upgrade in 2004.
"If you look at any safety, if he's not a starter than he's got to be one of your core special teams guys," said Tomlin. "This guy has the versatility to do that. He's done a lot of things along those lines, in terms of rushing the punter, being a coverage guy on punt team, being a kickoff return guy. He's done it all from a special teams standpoint. Speed and body control…he's a nice pick for us."