"Brad is a lot like Dustin was when he was a freshman," offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Ted Cain said. "He's still a little light right now, but he'll get more strength and bulk as his time comes. Brad is a very good route runner, like Dustin was. Brad is a very good blocker, with a low pad level—very tenacious with his blocks."
For the casual observer, it might be easy to overlook Allen's contributions through his first few games of college football—statistically speaking, he has yet to record a pass reception or a special teams tackle. But when it comes down to it, No. 83 is the only other tight end playing in or even dressing for games. Barring an injury, Vandy is hoping to keep the redshirt on their two true freshman tight ends, Thomas Welch and Jake Bradford, automatically giving Allen a key role in the offense in his first real season.
At the same time, the fact that there are only two tight ends available to the offense is perhaps the main reason that Allen does not see more action. He has played the majority of his snaps in two tight end sets, but the coaches are running these formations somewhat limitedly due to the lack of depth.
But as far as his own individual progress, Allen has benefited immensely from having the veteran Dunning to learn from in practice.
"It's a great situation to have when you have a player like Dustin that's a senior and has played for three or four years," Cain said. "Dustin is my demonstrator out there—with Brad and the two redshirt freshmen…I always just say, ‘Do it like Dustin does it!' They have a great role model to look at."
Dunning himself is excited about the potential he sees in Vandy's tight end of the future, and echoed their coach's earlier sentiments about their similarities.
"My impression of Brad is that he reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age," Dunning said. "He's real quick, he's got a lot of tenacity, he's going to get his man every play. He's done really well his first few games. He's on his guy and he's learned the offense really well—he's a smart guy."
For Allen, who has aspirations to be a physician and is working towards a degree in pre-medicine, having some brains has undoubtedly helped in learning the offense.
"It was kind of a struggle coming in here last year, playing the scout team everyday and trying to pick up everything," he said. "It was a big change from high school. I came from such a simple offense, and here it's so much more integral—the tight end is doing so much more.
"This year I really feel like I'm more comfortable out there, and realizing things that I didn't last year. It's all confidence, having the confidence knowing that I'm doing the right thing. It allows me to go at a much greater speed."
According to Cain, the 6'4", 238-pounder from Venice, Fla. may even be ahead of where Dunning was at the same point in his early career.
"Brad came in last year and learned the system," Cain said. "He did some lifting, getting stronger and faster. This year, he's played more than Dustin did as a redshirt freshman, so that's a good thing. He's getting some good quality reps and some game time experience."
In his own words, Allen has "big shoes to fill" playing behind Dunning, who has exhibited what might be the surest set of hands on the team, making 20 catches for 256 yards on the season. But for a player who is still in many ways raw and undeveloped, Allen is showing tremendous upside that should leave the Dores in good hands when Dunning graduates.
"I feel like the coaches are beginning to trust that I'm going to be able to get the job done," Allen said. "I'm just going to keep working hard to gain their trust and show them that I can do my job."
Brad Allen (VM/ L. Yates)