PHOENIX — A few days at the Arizona Biltmore for the NFL annual meetings gave Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox the chance to meet Jared Allen, one of their highest-paid players.
Allen received his $11.5 million roster bonus for the 2015 season, which was guaranteed at signing, earlier this month.
“It was good to touch base and share some ideas,” Fox said. “He’ll get that opportunity to compete, and he can be one of those guys who makes a big jump.”
A big jump might seem like crazy thinking when it comes to Allen, who turns 33 in a week and will get a look at 3-4 outside linebacker after 11 productive seasons at right defensive end.
But Pace and Fox are keeping an open mind with Allen, and there’s a sense that he might be a significant contributor.
Pace, for one, had a positive evaluation of Allen when he was a free agent a year ago.
Pace and Fox also have taken into account Allen’s bout with pneumonia and his subsequent weight loss last season.
Allen missed Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers but returned the next week against the Carolina Panthers and played 89 percent of the defensive plays. But Allen said it took him weeks to feel normal again.
“Physically, he had a rough year last year,” Fox said. “In particular for big guys or really any position, your weight, your strength level, all those things physically have a lot to do with how you perform on Sundays.
“In his case, he got pneumonia and lost 19, 20 pounds, and in the middle of a marathon, that is hard to recover from. That’s an analogy I use for a football season. So I don’t know if it was his best season. [But] there are reasons [for his struggles], not excuses.”
Allen often has said that he’d retire when he thinks he can no longer be a factor. Pace said it’s too early to tell how much Allen’s skills have diminished with age.
“It’s hard,” Pace said. “When these players get older, it’s hard to know when they’re really reaching that point. I’ll know more when I see him live in person.
“But I liked him in free agency last year. I know last year he didn’t have the production that he wanted, but, again, we’re looking forward to going forward. We’ll see in OTAs and minicamp.”
In 2014, no lineman played more defensive snaps than Allen, who had a career-worst 5½ sacks. He was on the field for every defensive snap in four of the last seven games.
The same won’t be expected this season. Allen said during Super Bowl week that he can play in a 3-4 defense, but Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston and even Shea McClellin are better suited at outside linebacker.
Unlike Houston or McPhee, Allen won’t be used at five-technique defensive end in the 3-4 base defense, Pace said.
Allen simply isn’t heavy enough — “[It’s] anybody that’s 290 pounds; that’s kind of right on the edge,” Pace said — and he won’t be asked to gain weight.
Allen’s true value will show up in sub packages. Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio want waves of pass rushers and often will employ four-man fronts in which Allen can man his usual right-end spot. His decreased playing time could increase his productivity on a snap-by-snap basis.
“The best pass defense is a pass rush,” Fox said. “It’s no special coverage, otherwise everybody would run it. So it’s just building that personnel-wise.”
And that includes Allen.