For so long, the pursuit was everything for Jared Allen. Fighting through left tackles, targeting quarterbacks, then knocking the snot out of them was his beloved way of life.
But at 33 and in his 12th NFL season, Allen is experiencing a different sense of satisfaction on the field — albeit at practice for the time being. In his switch to outside linebacker, he’s eying quarterbacks in new ways and liking it.
“To see the quarterback looking your way and have to go there [with a pass], can you do it?,” Allen asked Wednesday during the Bears’ organized team activities. “[When] you’ve got your guy covered and did the right thing, you become a factor in the entire defense instead of just what I got to worry about in my four-foot box going forward, my gap, my responsibility.”
Dropping into coverage more often is only one of many changes Allen is experiencing in his role in the Bears’ new 3-4 defense after a distinguished career at right defensive end.
And as new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he would, Allen is feeling rejuvenated — physically and mentally — by the whole process. He’s embraced every challenge and taken advantage of the Bears’ voluntary offseason work under Fangio and position coach Clint Hurtt.
“My body feels fresher because I’m not banging every single day and putting my hands on a 300-plus pounder and banging heads,” Allen said. “I like it because it is testing my football IQ. … This is a totally different thought process for me, and it’s really forcing me to study. I’m having fun with it.”
Allen has eaten his own words because of all that fun. In 2011 when the Minnesota Vikings were contemplating a scheme change, Allen said that he wanted to end his career at end and that he didn’t want to play in a 3-4 defense.
“You know what? That was a little ignorance talking, I have to be honest,” Allen said. “I didn’t know anything about [outside linebacker].”
And Allen likes what he’s learned so far. He’s learning to play on his feet more, and his responsibilities in pass coverage are different than any zone blitz he’s been part of at end.
“I’m just not position dropping now,” Allen said. “I’m actually part of the drop. … You’ve got to work on drops and breaks. You’ve got wide receivers doing all these little surprise stunts and [you’re] passing coverages.”
But Allen still will do what he was signed for last season: rush the passer. Allen is eager to make up for his career-worst 5.5 sacks from 2014. The different pass-rush angles and one-on-one matchups that outside linebackers can have could help him at this point in his career.
Allen’s iPad is full of tapes featuring some of the game’s best 3-4 outside linebackers: Aldon Smith, DeMarcus Ware, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
“It is slightly different when you’ve got your hand in the ground on what you can do,” Allen said. “[It’s] watching them and understanding foot concepts, getting your feeling on what can be able to work and [taking] what I do and [seeing] if it’s still effective, even though I’m standing up.
“I’m always studying. It’s actually cool watching different players that I might not watch during the season because of different styles. And I’ll try to mash those up.”
Again, it’s all part of the fun for Allen.
“I know it’s just OTAs, but being out there and seeing the one-on-one matchups that I’ve been able to create and the rush angles I’ve been able to create … it’s kind of broadening my perspective on football,” Allen said. “For me, it’s been a blast.”