September 10, 2008

Sophomore Allen relishing new starting role

In the case of sophomore defensive end Pierre Allen, one man's setback was another man's opportunity.

When senior Barry Turner was lost for the season after breaking a bone in his leg against San Jose State on Saturday, Allen was thrust into the spotlight and into Nebraska's starting rotation on defense.

The Denver native made the most of his opportunity, as he racked up a game- and career-high 10 tackles, including three for loss. While Turner's injury is obviously a big one for the Huskers, Allen's play in his absence gave hope that the drop off won't be quite as significant as many had feared.

"Everybody knows Barry Turner and what he brought to the team, so I've got big shoes to fill. I've got big shoes to fill," Allen said. "Barry, I mean, he was everything. He was our go-to guy on defense. That's a lot of ahead of me. I've just got to go hard and get the job done for the team, for the coaches, for the Husker fans."

At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Allen certainly looks the part of a play-making defensive end, and his drive on the field and in the weight room only supports his case. While redshirting his first season on campus in 2006, Allen put on a whopping 40 pounds of muscle to make himself a better fit as a Big 12 defensive end.

But what made Turner such a valuable asset to NU's defense was his versatility to play both on the line and standing up as more of a linebacker in what the Huskers call their "Spinner" package.

In the Spinner defense, Turner would hover along the defensive line and either blitz a random gap or drop into coverage, keeping quarterbacks unsure of where he would end up after the snap.

Because Allen had spent the entire offseason working directly behind Turner, he was familiar mentally with his role on the defense. Combine that with his natural athleticism that rivals even Turner, and it's easy to see why Nebraska's coaching staff had no reservations about throwing Allen into the starting lineup.

"He and Barry have worked the same position all through spring and fall camp, so when Barry went down, he was able to step right in and do a good job," defensive ends coach John Papuchis said. "In any season you're going to have some injuries, and to have someone that's going to step in and do a good job is huge.

"That reflected on his play on Saturday. We treat him and he treats it like he's a starter. He's ready to roll."

Head coach Bo Pelini said he was impressed with Allen's work in the spring and fall camp, and that his performance on Saturday was not much of a surprise.

"He's been good since I've been here, he's played well," Pelini said. "He's come a long way. I thought he had a really good spring, and I think he's continued into the fall. We need him to step up and keep getting better."

Another benefit to Allen's transition to the starting lineup has been Turner himself. Since his injury, Turner has taken Allen under his wing and helped guide him as much as possible in adjusting to his new role.

"Barry's like my big brother," Allen said. "Even off the field, we're great. He's just telling me to get in and watch film and just do it for the team. More so than for him, he wants me to do it for the team."

For Allen, the hardest part about Saturday had nothing to do with San Jose State. It was more getting his emotions in check, and once he was able to get his nerves under control, Allen said he felt as comfortable as ever on the field.

Allen said he especially enjoys playing the defensive end/linebacker hybrid position because of the ability to roam around the field and the freedom to make plays in a variety of different ways. In his words, it allows him to "provide a spark" to the entire defense.

Though Allen is obviously enjoying his opportunity to join the starting lineup, he stressed that he would never root for an injury, and that seeing Turner, his teammate and friend, end his season on Saturday was difficult to watch.

With the support of his coaches and teammates, especially Turner, Allen has made about as smooth of a transition to his new role as possible so far. Though there were many question marks after Turner went down, Allen never questioned his ability to pick up right where Barry left off.

From the sound of things, that confidence likely won't be wavering any time soon.

"I'm not here to prove anything to other people," Allen said. "I just want to come in here and prove to my coaches, I think my coaches already know that I'm somebody they can count on. I'm not out to prove anything so everybody can compare me and Barry. I'm just coming in and try to fulfill a role."

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