The Pittsburgh Steelers made an impression on Will Allen when he joined them three years ago.
Come training camp, he hopes he makes the same impression on the Dallas Cowboys, his new team.
“The first thing Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor and those guys said to me, when I walked into the defensive back room, was if you don’t stick your face in the thing, you can’t be on this defense,” he said. “If you aren’t ready to hit — we don’t care about interceptions — if you aren’t ready to hit, we don’t need you.
“That’s a mentality. If you aren’t trying to hit, you can forget about it.”
So that’s the mentality Allen, signed as a free agent to bring veteran experience at safety for the Cowboys, hopes to get across in July when the Cowboys start practices in training camp in Oxnard, Calif.
He didn’t get a chance to do any hitting in the off-season practices, first because he was hurt part of the time, and second, because it is non-contact work.
But, speaking to reporters during the minicamp at Valley Ranch this month, he said players such as linebacker Sean Lee and safety Barry Church make him think the Cowboys can be a strong-hitting defense.
“Those Pittsburgh guys are mean on the field ... to everybody,” Allen said. “It’s not just taboo. It’s not something you just say. You really believe it. You really mean it. It’s your mindset because everybody’s accountable to each other. And hopefully we can build that same accountability here on the back end, everybody from Brandon Carr to Mo Claiborne.
“I don’t care how you bring them down, but we’re going to hit. We’re going to let these receivers know we mean business. I think that’s the mentality we’ve got to adopt and have in every game.”
Lee, the Cowboys’ leading tackler two years ago, can tell Allen believes in hitting.
“The passion he has for football, how much knowledge he has, and how he is on the practice field — that intensity — I think everybody’s going to feed off that,” Lee said.
So Allen, 31, is at least delivering the veteran influence the Cowboys hoped he would when they signed him. They were looking for toughness and hoped to take advantage of his experience in new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” defense.
Before playing the past three years in Pittsburgh, Allen played five years under Kiffin in Tampa Bay, where Rod Marinelli and Rich Bisaccia — also new Cowboys assistant coaches this year — were defensive assistants.
“I’ve seen a lot of ball,” Allen said. “It’s hard when you are young because you really don’t get it. You just do what you are told and try to let your athletic ability take over. Then once you start seeing the big picture, start seeing how offenses try to attack you, start studying more film, understanding routes and concepts and how certain receivers respond to the routes, the game gets really, really easy.
“But you have got to be a student and want to understand that part of the game. Hopefully, I can help some of the guys on our team with that same knowledge and wisdom.”
But the Cowboys believe Allen can contribute more than know-how. They’re giving him a chance to win a starting job. When he became healthy in time for the mandatory minicamp, he played alongside Church on the first-team defense, ahead of safety contenders Matt Johnson and J.J. Wilcox.
“He’s not here just because of the system,” Kiffin said. “You don’t bring in a guy just because he played in a system. He can still play. We followed his career. We know coach [Mike] Tomlin in Pittsburgh. Rod knows him. And I know him, and coach Bisaccia knows him.”
But for now, until the Cowboys begin practice, Allen’s experience with Kiffin, plus the Steelers’ Dick LeBeau, another renowned defensive coordinator, gives him an edge over everyone else on the roster.
“Oh, yeah. I feel fortunate to have played for two of the greatest franchises in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Allen said. “And to have played for two great coordinators is tremendous, a blessing. Being able to thrive in both of those defenses, you can’t dream of a better career. The only thing that is left is to win a Super Bowl, and that is what I am here for.”