If Will Allen had his way, he would be spending this week in team meetings, on the practice field and watching film through the night, getting ready for a playoff game this weekend or next.
But unfortunately things didn’t go as planned this season, and instead of practicing he is preparing to head off into an offseason of uncertainty for the free agent safety.
“I still feel like I have to get ready for this week,” said Allen. “I am kind of at a loss for words. I think we missed out on a lot of opportunities this year. We had some very strong points but some very low points as well. We have to evaluate and get better this offseason. We need to press hard and come together as a team, so we can face those adverse situations better, and those critical moments in games where we didn’t execute well.”
Allen was called upon heavily this season not just to play in situational defenses, but to start seven games when Troy Polamalu was injured and saw extended playing time as Polamalu was slowly worked back into the lineup.
“I was able to help the team the best way I could,” said Allen. “That’s what I am here for, to help the team win and help the team the best way I can. I am thankful for the opportunity. There are still many ways I can get better and this team can get better. We just have to get better in the critical moments of a game.”
The defense finished ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL, first against the pass and second against the rush. But they weren’t satisfied. The defense was 12th in the AFC with 20 takeaways, an even mix of 10 interceptions and fumble recoveries, and 25th overall in the NFL. It’s an area Allen knows has to pick up next year.
“The lack of turnovers on defense this year, we didn’t make enough,” said Allen. “We didn’t make enough at all. We started getting them later this season. That helped our offense be more opportunistic. Next year, I think we need to focus on that from day one. To have the number-one defense and number-one pass defense two consecutive years is tremendous. I just think we need to get our turnover ratio up.”
Allen is one of 18 players who will become a free agent in March and knows there could be opportunities for him to potentially be a full-time starter elsewhere, but also knows what he has in Pittsburgh.
“The Steelers organization is great,” said Allen. “I really have enjoyed my time here. I’ve enjoyed the team. It’s a lot of fun. I love to compete here. I love the fans. It’s a hard place to leave. Even if they let you go it’s a hard place to leave. When that time comes, when March comes, I will sit back and think about what decision to make.”
Allen said he doesn’t have to talk to other players who have left via free agency, including linebacker Larry Foote who left and came back, to know how special it is to play for the Steelers.
“It’s very hard to leave you once you’ve been here,” said Allen. “I really don’t know what will happen. I want to talk like I will be here, because I love it here. I love playing here and playing for Coach Tomlin.
“I know what it is like to be away from here. I played in Tampa for six years. There were some good years, and there were some horrible years there. I know what it’s like to play for a great organization here in Pittsburgh. To leave would be difficult.”
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Jerricho Cotchery reflected on the 2012 season and there was one thing that stuck out in his mind – missed opportunities.
“I think it was kind of the whole season,” said Cotchery. “You look at the Oakland game, you look at the Tennessee game, games that we pretty much had in control and for some reason they slipped away. You look at things like that and kill yourself the entire night or the entire offseason looking back at those games.
“Hopefully they’ll be good learning moments for us and teaching moments that show that we have to take advantage of our opportunities and make those plays when necessary.”
Cotchery, who finished the season with 17 receptions for 205 yards as the team’s fourth receiver, said he would have liked to have done more to help an offense he described as inconsistent.
“We were very inconsistent as an offense,” said Cotchery. “We just made a lot of critical errors. I’m a part of the offense and it’s just disappointing. I think every guy is going to put in the necessary work this offseason to make sure that inconsistent play doesn’t show up again next year.”
The Steelers had a slew of injuries this season, which included losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for three games. And while nobody had blamed injuries for the 8-8 finish, Cotchery knows losing a franchise quarterback for any amount of time is going to have an impact on the team.
“You never want to use that as an excuse, but it’s Ben,” said Cotchery. “I remember in the Oakland game we were on the sidelines and we were looking at the pictures and it was like we got everything we wanted. We were moving the ball so well and things of that nature, so I felt like we were growing. Then all of a sudden Ben gets hurt and that slows the progression a little bit. That’s just the reality of it.
“Once Ben got back in, we were just trying to recapture what we had earlier on in the year, but it just didn’t take place. I think the progression would have been a lot better if Ben wouldn’t have gotten hurt, but those things happen over the course of the season and we just have to deal with it.”
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Linebacker Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers in sacks this season with six, the first time an inside linebacker has every led the team in sacks, but he is quick to admit he would have liked to have done more.
“I feel like I did okay. I could have done better,” said Timmons. “I wish I would have started the year better. I felt like I finished strong toward the end. My thing is not about how you start, it is how you finish.”
Timmons finished strong with six tackles and two sacks, as well as a forced fumble and fumble recovery against the Browns, helping the Steelers secure the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
“I guess we ended on a positive note,” said Timmons. “That’s the way I look at it.
“It’s definitely good to finish number-one in the league. It’s a tough league. We wish we were in the playoffs, but that’s life. We are just being optimistic. We need to get everybody healthy and get ready for next year.”
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