Jared Allen resolute after ‘miserable’ 2014: ‘I still think I’m the best at what I do’

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BOURBONNAIS — Jared Allen is almost an afterthought at Bears training camp this year. He’s a 33-year-old defensive end coming off a career-low 5 1/2-sack season, playing a new position for a new coach in a new defense.

Expectations are not high. The second question put to him Wednesday was whether or not he still considered himself a starter — a question not usually asked of a player with 134 sacks in 11 NFL seasons, including 51 in the last four.

Well?

“I still think I’m the best at what I do,” Allen said in a spirited interview with reporters at Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. “Last year sucked — I’m not going to sugar-coat it. There’s always circumstances around it, but it is what it is and I’m ready to go out and bust someone’s head open. That’s the kind of year I want to have.

“I want to have fun. Last year wasn’t fun. It was miserable. I didn’t transition well coming over from Minnesota like I thought I was going to. There were just all these circumstances and I let them get to me. I shouldn’t have.

“I’m about as healthy as I can be right now. I just want to go out and have fun and play football and win football games and display my talents and help our team win. That’s all I want to do.”

The only thing we know for sure is that Allen still has the fire. He bristled at the notion that after his worst season in the NFL last year, his reputation as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL had taken a hit.

“I don’t know if it took a hit, personally,” he said. “I’m still the active leader in sacks. I still did things in my first 11 years that took guys 15 years to do. So I don’t know if it took a hit.

“I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished — being top 10 [in sacks] all-time. But do I have goals? Do I want to lead the league in sacks again? Do I want to be the only person that has three sack titles?

“It’s funny — every fourth year in my career I’ve led the league in sacks. I’m hoping that continues [in 2015]. Good little pattern, if it did.”

But though is desire is off the charts, the challenge he faces this season is immense. Pass rushers have a tendency to lose it in a hurry. After seven consecutive seasons with 11 or more sacks, Allen’s precipitous drop to 5 1/2 last year looked like one giant red flag.

He lamented near misses when analyzing his difficult season last December — “I probably had five or six in my hands that I missed,” he said, “so I have to make those plays, then I’m in double digits and we’re not having this conversation.”

To Allen, those near-misses convince him he’s still got it. But to others, they signal a lost half-step that 33-year-old high-motor defensive ends don’t often get back — especially when they’re playing outside linebacker, where Allen will be in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. The challenge, to repeat, is immense.

But Allen has too much pride to count him out. Circumstances were not in his favor last year —he was learning a new defense; he was playing in a bad defense; he suffered pneumonia early in the season that forced him to miss a game for illness or injury for the first time since his rookie year. And it took him time to get back to full strength. By then, the season was over.

If things go right, who knows where Allen’s indomitable will to be Jared Allen will take him?

“Every year is personal for me,” he said. “It feels fickle — you only get credit for what you’ve done lately, right? No one remembers what you’ve done the first 10 years of my career. Everybody talks about what happened last year.

“And that’s the way I like it. I like every year trying to outdo myself. So year, it’s always personal. It’s always [about] going out there to prove I’ve still got it.”

Even the Bears are waiting to find out if he does. Coach John Fox’s deflection of a question about Allen’s status —are they certain he’s a starter in this defense? —said plenty.

“No matter what name you put on it, that is why we are here,” Fox said. “It’s a competitive business. We’ll create competitive situations and ultimately their performance will pick where they are on the depth chart and … the roster.”

Allen said he was open-minded to playing linebacker and even more willing after talking to general manager Ryan Pace and Fox in the offseason.

“I remember talking to my wife and I just said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to have fun this year,’” Allen said. “Last year was brutal. I just want to go out there and have fun and enjoy this game that I’ve been playing since the age of eight. And if that means I have to take a position change, then let’s go try it out. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, it’s not going to be from lack of effort.”

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