Training Camp Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop
called Marcus Allen on the Thursday before the Ohio State game last fall, Allen
was understandably a little nervous.
Ryan Keiser had just gotten injured at practice, and it was time for Allen to
Keiser was Allen's natural mentor, but the man who had shown Allen the ropes as
a true freshman would not return for the rest of the season.
Allen had played in the first six games of his rookie season, but never a full
game on defense and never without Keiser to bounce questions off.
Thrust into the starting lineup, Allen grew with each passing rep. He finished fourth
on the team with 58 tackles and headed into the offseason ready to take another
significant step forward.
The game reps during the latter half of 2014 were invaluable for the Maryland
native's growth at safety.
"Just having a lot more experience doing everything, you can
feel a difference," said Allen.
His safety spot isn't an easy one to learn, but Allen has relished in the
opportunity to be vocal while ensuring everyone is on the same page.
"I really like playing this position," Allen said. "I like to
be in a position to make a hit, make plays when they are there and playing a
big role in helping run the defense and being the voice."
"He's the undisputed quarterback of the defense,"
said Shoop. "He probably is a lot to the defense what Christian (Hackenberg) is
to the offense. He's very vocal. He understands the defense inside and out."
A lot of credit goes to Allen for his tireless efforts in his mastery of the
scheme, but being a sponge around the veterans is huge, too.
"When you have elite, veteran players lined up around you,
like Jordan Lucas, it helps you game grow that much more," Allen said. "As far
as being comfortable calling the plays, it just comes natural because it is
second nature. I know it like the back of my hand."
The other component to Allen's growth is just that, his measurable growth.
He's added nearly 15 pounds since he stepped on campus. Standing at 6-2, 209
pounds, Allen is hard to miss when you peer at the Penn State defense on the
field. He plays at a height just one other Penn State starting safety measured
during the past nine seasons.
Allen's size hasn't been a commonplace for a player in the secondary, but it's
an area of his game he uses as an advantage, much like the player he looks up
to in the NFL - Seattle Seahawk Kam Chancellor.
"He's keeping the big safeties alive in football," said
Allen. "Everyone talks a lot about how big safeties need to play linebacker.
He's still out there playing well and doing it as a bigger guy. He's a big guy
and runs like a corner. That's why I model my game after him."
"He watches a lot of Kam Chancellor film, he sees
himself a little bit like that, that box type safety who's very good in the run
game," Shoop said. "He is a good pass defender. He does have good range. He
does have good quickness and speed."
Because of his game reps last season, it's easy to overlook the fact that Allen
is just a true sophomore in his second training camp. He's still maturing with
each passing day. The impact he had on the defense last year was just the beginning.
Allen knows he has a long way to go, but he's ready and willing to take the
steps necessary to improve each component of his game. Fine tuning his ball
skills is an area Shoop and Allen noted heading into the season.
"The thing I really like about him is it's really,
really important to him," said Shoop. "He's on the Jugs machine every day. He's
worked on it, and he's aware of his strengths, he's aware of his weaknesses,
and he's looking forward to improving that piece of his game."
A physical player, Allen's is going to play a key role in
the middle of the defense. He's developed a great rapport with the rest of the
secondary and figures to be an impact player for the Nittany Lions in 2015.
Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony