Safety Marcus Allen Setting The Tone This Spring
Marcus Allen has held down the free safety spot since being thrust into action as a true freshman in 2014 against the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, who narrowly escaped in double overtime.
Over the past two years, the Upper Marlboro, Md., native has continued to refine his skill set as the defense’s center fielder, often calling out the coverage adjustments alongside linebackers Nyeem Wartman-White and Jason Cabinda. Allen finished with 81 total tackles last season, good for second on the team behind only Cabinda.
“I’m just trying to perfect my craft as much as I can. It’s getting deeper and deeper into my career here, so I just wanna be the best safety I can be in the Big Ten. That means turnovers, tackling, coverage skills, everything; being more physical than I am — just wanna be the best,” Allen said after Wednesday’s practice. “Just playing early as a freshman, and just being thrown into the fire, it helped me a lot, because now that I’m an upcoming junior it feels as though I know exactly what I have to do.”
Allen and the safeties have made a rather seamless transition to working with new position coach Tim Banks this spring.
“Coach Banks, he’s my man,” Allen said. “He’s definitely that guy. He knows football in and out, he’s just gonna tell you what you did wrong and what you did right, and he’s gonna celebrate with you also.”
While the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Allen’s starting role is already entrenched, there’s some healthy veteran competition brewing on the opposite side of the field at strong safety, as graduate senior Malik Golden, junior Troy Apke, and redshirt sophomore Koa Farmer battle it out for those coveted reps with the ones. Youngsters Ayron Monroe, Jarvis Miller, and John Petrishen should also factor into the rotation after the trio redshirted last fall.
“As a secondary, we call ourselves the ‘Cartel.’ We gotta have that swag. As far as trash talking on the field, it just brings more energy to the practice,” Allen said. “Coach Franklin always preaches having energy and playing with enthusiasm out there — having fun in general, and that’s what we just try to bring to the table every day.”
Allen spoke highly of his cornerback teammates and noted that each brings a different characteristic to the table. “We just got that swag to us now, and we look pretty doing it; especially my corners, you know we always communicate. Grant Haley, John Reid — John’s a little scrappy. And Christian Campbell — you know he’s long as crap, and he’s got that country accent to him (Campbell hails from Phenix City, Ala.).”
The adjustment to Brent Pry’s system has been more of a transition than a full-fledged scheme change, as the newly-promoted defensive coordinator has been with Franklin since his days at Vanderbilt and is one of the staff’s most respected and versatile coaches.
“You just might as well call the defense ‘Houdini.’ We’re just doing crazy stuff back there,” Allen explained. “You may think we’re in that coverage, but we might be sending a blitz — you don’t know exactly. It’s so fun doing it, you just gotta do it yourself. I wish you [the media] were out there too, and just getting the call and having the swag to do it yourself.”
The hard-hitting Allen certainly doesn’t lack confidence, which bodes well for the unit’s mentality between the lines this spring and heading into preseason camp. Allen has always played with that extra spark. It’s visible in warmups when No. 2 bounces up and down to the Beaver Stadium loud speaker with his teammates. It’s visible while he’s calling out audibles to get the secondary in sync before the snap. Now he’s the guy younger teammates look to for guidance, much like his experience with recently-graduated leaders in the Penn State secondary.
“I get calls and texts from J-Luc [graduated safety Jordan Lucas], and Adrian [Amos] still. Adrian Amos and Trevor Williams, they all contact me and just say how much they want me to be a leader on and off the field. It’s just my year to take the torch and lead our D,” Allen said. “It just feels like yesterday I was right there with Amos — my big brother.”
Though the Nittany Lions’ rally fell just short in the Taxslayer Bowl, Allen believes something clicked during preparation for the Bulldogs, and it’s translated to the practice fields at Lasch and Holuba.
“It was one bowl game practice we had, and we just, the offense and defense were just competing tremendously,” Allen explained. “Everyone was just gunning for each other, trash talking, a fight may have broken out, but we’re all brothers at the end of the day, so that practice just set it off then — that Georgia week on to the spring. It’s fun. Coming out here is so much fun for us, as a team, to compete against each other — this is my favorite part of the day, to be honest; right after my classes.”
Allen has all the tools you look for in a tall, physical safety, and 2016 could be the year he puts it all together to become an All-Big Ten-caliber player.