Tulane cornerback Richard Allen can’t wait to become the next Parry Nickerson.
With opponents shying away from eventual fifth-round draft pick Lorenzo Doss early last year, Nickerson made the most of his chances as a first-time starter on the opposite side, grabbing a team-high six interceptions while being targeted frequently.
This year Nickerson, a redshirt sophomore and a second-team All-American Athletic Conference pick, according to Phil Steele, is the guy quarterbacks will want to avoid. Allen, a junior who played primarily on special teams in his first two seasons, is the clear frontrunner for the second starting cornerback spot.
He knows the ball will be coming his way.
“I’m ready for it,” he said. “Parry had a really good year last year, and I feel like teams are going to pick on me at the beginning of the season. Parry took full advantage (of teams avoiding Doss) and got his picks. I can do the same thing, definitely.”
Cornerback is shaping up as a strength for the Green Wave even though the Denver Broncos drafted Doss and teammate Taurean Nixon (seventh round), who started eight games at the nickel spot. Nickerson outplayed Doss a year ago, making 51 tackles and giving up fewer big plays while forcing opponents to stop challenging him as much by the second half of the season.
Coach Curtis Johnson liked what he saw in the first three days of preseason camp from Allen, who blanketed receivers consistently.
“I love him,” Johnson said. “He’s smart, he knows what to do, and he never gets beat deep. He’s almost unassuming at times because he’s just good. He’s always covering his guy.”
Allen, a member of the National Honor Society when he helped John Curtis win state championships in his last two years of high school, combines smarts with impressive speed. He has run the 100 meters and the 4x100 relay for the Tulane track and field team.
“I can close on the ball real fast,” he said. If I make a mistake and the receiver gets a step on me, I can catch up really quickly.”
Nickerson adjusted quickly to his role as a starter last season. Coming back from a chronic knee issue that sidelined him for all but the opening game of 2013, he eliminated any doubts about his football future by intercepting passes in Tulane’s first two games.
Later, he had two interceptions as the Wave upset Houston 31-24 on the road, sealing the victory with an interception near the goal line on the final play.
With the experience he gained and another 12 months of being injury free, he expects to top that performance.
“I’m running around a lot smoother, and flying around at that,” he said. “My knee is much better than it used to be. I’m quicker, and I’m getting out of my cuts faster, so that will play a big role.”
The optimism does not end with the starters. True freshman Dedrick Shy and Taris Shenall already have impressed the coaches enough that the two backup cornerbacks exiting spring practice — Stephon Lofton and Donnie Lewis, Jr. — have spent most of their time at safety and the nickel spot this week.
Shy, a 6-foot-2 player from Warren Easton, is the tallest cornerback on the roster. Shenall (5-10), a former John Ehret standout, is running with Shy on the second team.
“They not only are not got going to redshirt, they are going to play a lot,” Johnson said. “I’m pleasantly surprised after three days where we are with those two young kids.”
Asked if cornerback was the least of his concerns, Johnson would not go that far, pointing out he worried about everything. He also has a tough comparison to his days as an assistant at the University of Miami, which he said once had NFL first-round draft picks Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanon, Antrel Rolle, Kelly Jennings and Sean Taylor in the defensive backfield at the same time.
Tulane’s not there, but Allen wants to be the latest cornerback to make waves in New Orleans.
I’m so ready for the year to start,” he said. “I’m just ready to get to that first game (against Duke on Sept. 3) and show off for the fans and for the school.”