Chicago Bears running back Armando Allen is an NFL running back, plain and simple. Despite his relatively small size (5-8, 190) Allen has been arguably the most impressive back in training camp so far.
We all know Matt Forte is one of the best backs in the league, and Michael Bush can pound out yards on the ground. What most aren't aware of is Allen's ability as both a ball carrier and pass catcher. His speed and quickness have stood out on the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University.
Astute Chicago fans will remember Allen from last year. The Notre Dame product spent last offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, yet was cut before the season started. The Bears scooped him up in Week 1 and placed him on the practice squad, where he spent 12 of the next 15 weeks.
When both Forte and Marion Barber were lost to injury, the club elevated Allen to the active roster. He appeared in the final two contests of 2011, carrying the ball 15 times for 48 yards.
Now in his second offseason, Allen appears much more confident on the practice field.
"I feel more comfortable with myself, understanding I only control what I can control. That's coming out here every day and giving 110 percent," Allen told Bear Report. "I'm kind of relaxed and just focusing on what I've got to do."
Chicago tendered restricted free agent running back Kahlil Bell this offseason. He served as the team's No. 3 back last year and did well when called into duty late in the season. He finished 2011 with 79 rushes for 337 yards, along with 19 catches for 133 yards. In Week 16, he picked up his first 100-yard rushing game against the Green Bay Packers.
RB Armando Allen
Bradley Leeb/US Presswire
Yet, during his two games as a starter, Bell fumbled the ball three times. He then came out during the first week of camp and fumbled again. As such, his spot on the roster is far from guaranteed.
Which is where Allen comes in. While Bell has value as a special teams player, Allen is a much more diverse running back. Because of his size, Allen is a beast on screen passes. He's shown the ability to get behind his blockers, using his quickness to cut through creases and pick up big chunks of yards.
"I love screen passes," said Allen. "Just having the ability to get that pass and turn around with a lot of big linemen in front of me and kind of creating my own seams and coming off their blocks."
Allen is a nightmare matchup for linebackers, none of whom have been able to keep up with him in camp. Twice in Bourbonnais so far, Allen has made an over-the-shoulder grab 30 yards down the field for a touchdown.
His diminutive size also helps him as a runner, being able to sneak through gaps a bigger player may not fit.
"I think it's definitely to my advantage. A low center of gravity and being able to hide behind some of these big offensive linemen."
Allen has also proven his dedication. In the NFL, certain second-year players are allowed to attend rookie minicamp, if they didn't see enough time on the active roster their first season. Allen fit that criteria this year. It wasn't mandatory for him to attend, but there he was, back in May, working with the rookies.
"I thought it would be good to just go out there and get a good look and compete with some of the rookies that are coming in," Allen said. "Just show what I can do and see where I'm at."
This past week, the team has conducted live-contact drills with the third- and fourth-string players. These are basically the only practice drills that involve tackling players to the ground.
During the first live session, Allen took a handoff running off-tackle left. He made a juke move at the line of scrimmage, leaving a defensive lineman in his wake. He then bounced off a tackle from the linebacker and was able to scamper another 20 yards before being knocked out of bounds. It was a glimpse at what Allen can bring to this team.
"I think my versatility [is my biggest strength]," he said. "Being able to get out and run a couple of routes as a receiver and also being able to hit the hole in between as a little guy."
Allen said his time at Notre Dame, being coached by Brian Kelly, helped him build mental toughness, which he's been able to carry over to the pros.
"Brian Kelly, he's big on mental toughness. I've been able to transfer that over. Also being able to pick up a couple of these plays fast and being able to transfer that over to the field. So I'm pretty good at that now."
If Allen continues to impress on the field, the coaching staff is going to have a tough decision to make. Is Bell, and his fumbling issues, worth keeping over Allen, a more-diverse back with a more-complementary skill set? Or will the team keep four running backs, using Allen on third downs and passing situations?
One thing is for sure, Allen could be a playmaker in this offense if given the chance. For now though, he's only focusing on the things he can control.
"Just taking it one day at a time," he said. "Don't rush anything. Just go out every day and give 110 percent and be explosive."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.