OXNARD, Calif. – The only newcomer to the Cowboys' starting secondary also happens to be one of the leaders of the group and a veteran presence young defenders can turn to.
Will Allen's entering his first season with the Cowboys, but he's already become a leader playing in Monte Kiffin's defense for the second time in his 10-year career.
Allen said a new location doesn't necessarily make it difficult to lead. He always turned to the players when he was a young player in the league, so he's not surprised when rookies ask him questions.
"Sometimes you've got to keep your mouth shut and lead by example," Allen said. "I've been playing a long time, so I understand how to mesh well and where I fit, but I also know when to interject and exert energy and exert leadership. I think that's a good mix. We've got a good blend of talent, a good blend of tenure on our defense. We've got a great chance to do something very special."
Allen understands the responsibility he has. He's playing at a position full of novices on the Cowboys. The other starting safety next to him, Barry Church, started just three games last season after getting hurt.
Church and Danny McCray have only been in the league since 2010. McCray was forced to make starts at safety last year as the team adjusted for injuries, but he's mostly been a star special teams player throughout his career and will likely stay in that role this year.
The other safeties are even less experienced. Fourth-round draft pick Matt Johnson was hurt all season after getting drafted in 2012. This year's third-round draft pick at safety, J.J. Wilcox, only played one year of the position in college. Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath are both undrafted free agents this season contributing at the position.
"That's what this league is about, helping those younger players come along, because we're going to need them in the season," Allen said. "We're going to need them at some point during the year. I just try to help them get prepared for this long haul."
Allen, who played in Tampa Bay from 2004-09, is experienced in Kiffin's defense. But with new assistant coaches on a new team years removed from his time with the Buccaneers, Allen said there are still differences from the last time he played in Kiffin's defense.
One of those differences is learning from secondary coach Jerome Henderson. Allen may be a seasoned veteran, but he said he can still absorb new information from Henderson, who used to play in the league.
"They improvised some things, and they made some things a little bit different," Allen said. "It's a different situation, a different team, so they have to be tougher and harder, but that's good. It's going to harden us up and make us better in those adverse situations during the season."
Allen now finds himself in a different situation than he's accustomed to. He only started sparingly in Pittsburgh, playing behind some of the best safeties in the game in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
He was also an off and on starter prior to that in Tampa Bay, but Allen never questioned his ability or his likelihood of sticking in the league for a long time. He still believes he can be a permanent starter, and he has that opportunity in front of him Dallas. [embedded_ad]
"I've been starting, not starting, starting, not starting," he said. "That's just the way it is. I never knew how the role was going to be, but I just stayed the course, and I think that's the thing about this league. No one can tell you what your role is going to be, you kind of carve out your own path. That's the beauty of it, and that's why I'm here 10 years later."
Now that he has that opportunity again, he doesn't want to let it go. He's vocal on the field and in the secondary and is already rubbing off on the younger starters.
"I always go to him, even though he's new to this deal," said Morris Claiborne. "When I have a problem with something and I need some advice on something, I ask him. He's been in the league a while. There's not too much he hasn't seen."