The experiment in the New York Jets’ secondary is about to get its first true test.
Safety Antonio Allen was medically cleared after suffering a concussion on Aug. 22, and has been told he will start at cornerback in the regular-season opener against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
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"I feel good," Allen said Tuesday. "I’m ready to go, ready to play ball."
It appeared to be a bit of a desperate move in training camp when the Jets switched Allen from safety to cornerback because of injuries in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman called it an "experiment" at the time.
Now, it’s a reality. Allen, in his third season, will be making his first NFL start at cornerback.
"I feel pretty good with my preparation," Allen said. "Went out there and had a decent day today. I didn’t give up any deep balls, just competed well, and hopefully I can do that in the game."
The Jets are counting on that.
"I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable," Allen said, "but I’m getting there."
And, as for the other cornerback spot, that’s still a bit unsettled.
Dee Milliner, expected to be the top cornerback in his second season, is still recovering from a high ankle sprain that has his status uncertain. Dimitri Patterson, signed in April to start opposite Milliner, is no longer with the team after an unexcused 48-hour absence led to him missing a game, being suspended and ultimately cut. Third-round draft pick Dexter McDougle, expected to be a major contributor, is done for the season after tearing a knee ligament during camp.
The Jets have also tinkered with the roster, bringing in Leon McFadden, formerly of Cleveland, and Phillip Adams, who was with Seattle, to add depth to the cornerback spot.
So, it could come down to career backup Darrin Walls starting with Allen at cornerback against rookie Derek Carr. It all has some fans downright nervous, wishing for the days when their team had Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie prowling the secondary.
"No panic at all for us," safety Dawan Landry said. "We’re the guys that play the game, so we approach it that way. We can’t worry about outside sources. The game is played on the field, not played on paper."
Allen played linebacker and safety in college at South Carolina, but has been working at cornerback this summer before he injured his head when he collided with teammate Demario Davis against the Giants.
"It’s been going pretty well," Allen said of the transition. "Safeties know the defense, and as a safety, you’ve got to tell the corners what to do, so I’ve pretty much got the scheme down for what the corners are supposed to do."
Allen, able to shed the red no-contact jersey he wore Friday, realizes that opposing quarterbacks will look at the Jets’ cornerbacks and could test him immediately.
"Maybe," he said. "I hope so."
After Carr and the Raiders, the Jets take on a stretch of pass-happy teams that includes Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, Denver and New England in consecutive weeks.
"I haven’t looked at the quarterbacks," Allen said, "but I’ll be ready when they throw the ball my way."
Allen trusts his athletic abilities to make a seamless transition. And, Walls, who has four career starts, including three last season, isn’t worried about the two of them being a so-called glaring weakness in the Jets’ secondary.
"People can look at it like, `Yeah, these guys are inexperienced,’ or whatever, but I have confidence in us and I have confidence in our coaching staff," Walls said. "They’re not going to put us out there in situations that we can’t handle. I think we’re pretty good guys when it comes to being corners, so I don’t think there should be a panic at all."
Walls had a solid summer, but one knock has been his inability to hold on to the ball and make interceptions. So, he has been working with former New York safety Eric Smith, now an intern with the coaching staff. Smith has been acting as a quarterback, helping Walls sharpen his breaks on balls and overall instincts. He has also spent a lot of time catching passes after practices.
"I think I’m a lot better than I was last year," said Walls, who has one interception in 27 games. "I’ve watched a couple of games last preseason and I watched this preseason and I think I’ve improved tremendously."
Walls is also in the strange position of suddenly being one of the veterans in the Jets’ secondary.
"We look at it as a challenge," Walls said. "Everyone pays attention to the secondary and puts so much emphasis on the secondary, and we look at it like, `Well, they can say whatever they want about us. We’ve got to go out here and prove them right or prove them wrong.’