Safety Allen starting at corner
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- What a whirlwind of a week for Antonio Allen.
And, it was still only Tuesday.
The New York Jets safety was moved to cornerback at practice Monday, an intriguing and sudden switch that was the result of a spate of injuries at the position.
Not only that: On Saturday night, Allen will likely be starting at Cincinnati in the team’s preseason game -- and facing Bengals star wide receiver A.J. Green.
"Well, if he can cover that kid, then he can cover them all," coach Rex Ryan said Tuesday. "I think if he can cover that kid, then we know we’re in good shape because that guy is about as good as it gets. I think our entire fan base would sleep a lot better."
Ryan at first danced around whether Allen would start, saying only that he would -- but he didn’t know if it would be at cornerback. Then, he came clean.
"You know what, I think he probably will," Ryan said, smiling. "I think, what the heck? Let’s put him out there."
The Jets are short-handed at cornerback after injuries to Dee Milliner (sprained ankle), Dimitri Patterson (quadriceps, ankle and calf) and Dexter McDougle (season-ending torn knee ligament). Instead of turning to one of the other backup cornerbacks, Ryan decided to give Allen an opportunity.
"Rex came up to me (Monday) before practice and told me he was going to try me at corner and see how that went," Allen said. "I guess I did pretty well."
He had two interceptions in Monday’s practice, an impressive first showing. He was beat Tuesday by Eric Decker on a play, but held his own again while taking all of his snaps at cornerback.
"Whatever helps the team," Allen said, "I’m down for."
Some might say the move is one of desperation after general manager John Idzik didn’t sign one of the big-name free-agent cornerbacks in the offseason. Others might say it’s a gamble, moving a guy from a position he’s still learning to another he really hasn’t played.
"Let’s just see what happens, man," Allen said. "I’m going to get out there and make some plays. I know that. I’m going out there confident and no-holds barred."
Allen was a linebacker his first two years at South Carolina before being moved to safety. He was mostly a hybrid outside linebacker, though, largely dealing with interior plays. The Jets drafted him in the seventh round in 2012, thinking they had gotten a steal.
He was moved to safety exclusively and was in the running to be a starter at that spot this season after getting nine starts last year. Ryan has even commented that Allen could be a potential Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Despite all that, Allen doesn’t think his progress there will be stunted by this position switch.
"No, not at all," he said. "I think it makes me more versatile, playing corner and safety. I don’t know too many guys who could do it. I’m up for the challenge."
Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman called the move an "experiment," but has liked what he has seen from Allen so far.
"He’s practiced well," Thurman said. "It’s a tough adjustment, but he’s doing a good job with it."
While it might seem as if it’s a far-fetched scenario to have a player switch positions at this stage and be able to be a bona fide starter, Allen thinks it’s not as difficult as most would think.
"I think they’ve improved tremendously," Allen said of his cover skills. "All those guys telling me that I can’t play man (coverage) or I can’t play tight ends and that kind of stuff, I’m just proving them wrong."
Allen couldn’t help but laugh, though, when asked when he first thought he could be an NFL cornerback.
"Yesterday, probably," a grinning Allen said.
It’s uncertain whether the switch will last beyond this weekend, since Ryan and Idzik both acknowledged that they’re always looking for players to help at all spots. The Jets are also waiting for swelling to go down in Milliner’s ankle to perform an MRI that will determine how long he’ll be sidelined.
"My rookie year, I played outside a little bit in Jacksonville and it felt pretty normal," he said. "The guys are a little faster, but as long as you have good eyes and good feet, you should be in good position. It’s tough out there on an island, but you’ve got to get it done."
NOTES: Ryan announced -- as expected -- that QB Geno Smith will start against the Bengals. Neither Ryan nor offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was sure how long the starters would play. Mornhinweg added that it’s "certainly a possibility" that Michael Vick will get some work with the starters. ... Thurman said first-round S Calvin Pryor would work with the starters at Cincinnati after missing the preseason opener with a concussion. ... TE Jeff Cumberland left practice with tightness in an Achilles tendon. Ryan didn’t think it was serious.
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