Of all the Seahawks undrafted free agent signings, - and I like a lot of them - I think I might be most intrigued by Nebraska DE Pierre Allen. He's a solid if not spectacular player and did his job well in Nebraska's 4-3 defense. He played the strongside defensive end position (left DE, 5-tech) for Head Coach Bo Pelini and most importantly, played in a 2-gap system designed to hold up against the run.
Before I go further, just a little background information. Remember how I told you about the 4-3 Under defense that Pete Carroll runs? Well, it was originally popularized by Monte Kiffin while at Nebraska back in the '70s and Pete Carroll picked that philosophy up while coaching under Kiffin and Lou Holtz later at Arkansas. Well, fast forward a few years and when Pete Carroll got the Head Coaching job at New England back in 1997, he brought in a young defensive backs coach named Bo Pelini. Guess who picked up some of Kiffen's, and now Carroll's, defensive principles and philosophy? Yes, Bo Pelini, the now defensive-minded Head Coach at Nebraska.
From what I understand, the Huskers run a 2-gapping 4-3 hybrid, in what my dad (a rabid Nebraska fan) called a sort of matchup-zone. It's a bend-but-don't-break system that adjusts to the offensive formations.
A Nebraska fan contacted me and had noted this about Nebraska's defense: "NU has a pretty multiple defense and they do a lot of shifting, changing personnel, etc. Last year they played a nickel as their base D and were probably in a dime more than in the regular 4-3 because they saw so many spread offenses in the Big XII. They also played some 3-3-5.
Obviously, in a lot of passing situations he's going to be planted off the tackle's shoulder and working to get an upfield rush. But I'd say his base responsibility was to play a two-gap technique on the strong side. Especially because they had so many DBs on the field at any given time, they leaned on the DL to eat space, manage gaps and keep o-linemen off of our smaller guys at the second and third levels. The coaches spoke frequently about how important he was to the team in terms of controlling the run and holding the edge."
Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it should, because Nebraska's defense has some similarities to what the Seahawks run and it's because Pelini and Carroll come from the same defensive coaching tree. I'm sure Carroll got extensive scouting reports and advice from Pelini about Allen, Rickey Thenarse, and even QB Zach Lee. Carroll and Polini are still friends, and the Nebraska Head Coach even flew out to California in '09 to give a lecture on "Stopping the Run" at a Pete Carroll coaching clinic. Carroll was a big part of the reason Pelini got a job as Defensive Coordinator under then-Nebraska-HC Frank Solich in 2003. So, I think it's fair to say that they have a good connection.
Now, I'm not saying that they run the same stuff, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the Seahawks picked up two defensive UDFAs from Nebraska's roster. Pierre Allen is a guy that played strongside defensive end at 6'3, 270 lbs and has several years of experience 2-gapping in that defense. He's a high effort guy by most accounts, and was a Combine invite. It was a surprise to many that he didn't get drafted.
So why didn't he get drafted? Well, it could be a combination of things. First, he didn't get a lot of sacks at Nebraska and everyone knows that sacks are sexy. He was in a 2-gap system there that asked the defensive linemen to hold their gaps initially to prevent the run before heading upfield to attack the passer in the case of a throwing situation. This momentary hesitation is the reason you don't see sacks from anyone on Nebraska's line outside of Ndamukong Suh, and that's only because Suh is really, really, ridiculously, good.
I consulted some Nebraska forums to get fan reactions and found some interesting takes on Pierre Allen. Here are some thoughts they shared with me (obviously, take with a grain of salt but these fan analyses are pretty on point with scouting reports; also, the Nebraska forums are pretty similar to commentary here - pretty high football IQ and they hold people to a pretty high standard in there):
"He can hold up the edge of the line well and (at least on the college level) can handle bigger offensive tackles without giving ground. Not a great pass rusher but if he gets by his man he has good closing speed and can make some plays behind the line of scrimmage."
"NU plays a two-gap defensive front where linemen are expected to hold their gaps rather than immediately heading upfield at the snap. It's possible that in a more aggressive, Tampa style defense he might turn out to have a better pass rush than he showed in college. I'm not saying it's likely, but it's possible."
"Pierre Allen is very good against the run, but lacks the speed to be a legitimate pass rusher off the edge. He has a big guy and a good motor. He doesn't take plays off, but can get worked on passing downs against good tackles."
"Pierre Allen was a very hard worker who seemed to step up with big plays in bigger games frequently. He was not a liability against the run and could develop into a better pass rusher under the guidance of good coaching."
It was a little unclear where he'd be projected, and when Allen was asked where he envisioned himself, he agreed that a 4-3 left end might be a good fit, because that's what he did at Nebraska. Allen noted "We keep blockers in line and let the guys in the back make tackles, instead of just attacking."
From the scouting reports I've seen, Allen is very good against the run, is good at maintaining his gaps, holding the edge and keeping contain. This is the job of the 5-tech defensive end in Pete Carroll's defense so I could see Allen fitting in there as depth or perhaps even getting snaps in certain situations. Scouting reports indicate that he's actually pretty decent dropping into coverage as well so I wouldn't be surprised to see him in on some zone-blitz downs. The Hawks could get creative.
For what it's worth, Rob Rang is very high on Pierre Allen, and noted that he thinks Allen could even make the 53-man roster. Rang said, "They got a guy I consider a fourth or fifth round pick, and they got him as an undrafted free agent. And I know that other teams were battling for him."
"He's a good football player. Of all of the undrafted free agents I've seen so far, Pierre Allen, I would be surprised at this point if he didn't make a real run at a roster spot. He's going to get a shot, and we'll see if he can take advantage of it."
To see him in action, here is a reel of selected snaps featuring Pierre Allen, brought to you by Aaron Aloysius. Give it a watch.