Tight End Allred Catching On

<p>LATROBE -- To say that John Allred looks out of place on a football field is an understatement. His blonde hair and tanned body look better suited for riding a gnarly wave than they do blocking an equally gnarly linebacker. But Allred, even though he enjoys surfing, loves football just as much. The San Diego native is just as at home on the football field as he is catching some rays on the beach. That's why he had to give football one more shot after it nearly crippled him two years ago.</p>

A tight end, Allred is with the Steelers in their training camp this season after sitting out the 2001 season while rehabilitating a knee injury that may have cost him a once-promising career. A second-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 1997, Allred was well on his way toward having his best season in 2000 when he tore both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee during the fifth game of the season at Soldier Field against New Orleans.

He reached an injury settlement with the Bears the following season and signed with the St. Louis Rams a few weeks before they opened training camp. But after working out with the Rams for a few days, Allred knew the knee still wasn't sound.

"I just didn't feel like my knee was where I wanted it to be," said Allred. "I got into camp and felt OK, but I think it would have been one of those things where it would have been nagging throughout the year and I didn't want that."

Allred rolled the dice and decided to leave camp, take a season off and rehab his knee to prepare for the 2002 season.

"It was a tough decision to make, but I wanted my knee to be sound," the 6-foot-4, 246-pound Allred said. "It's almost like you're a rookie out here again, kind of knocking the rust off. But it's definitely fueled my desire to get out and play again."

The Steelers have been pretty pleased with what they've seen of him so far. Allred isn't a great blocker, but he seems to have a knack for getting open in the passing game.

"He can run and I liked some of the things he did in the kicking game the other day," said head coach Bill Cowher, referring to the team's exhibition opener against the New York Jets. "He made a nice tackle on the kickoff. He's a very good route runner. He's had a good camp."

The Steelers have been looking for a tight end who's a receiving threat for several seasons. Mark Bruener is considered one of the top blocking tight ends in the league, but lacks the speed to help out a lot in the passing game.

The team drafted Jerame Tuman as a receiving threat in 1999, but Tuman didn't make his first catch until last season and still has just seven career receptions. Matt Cushing and Corey Geason have been on again, off again players on the team's roster the past couple of seasons and have just 14 career receptions between them.

Allred has shown a knack for getting open down in the passing game that the team has lacked since it had Eric Green in the mid-'90s. And with Tuman out for the past week with an abdominal injury, Allred has seen a lot of work.

At this point, however, Allred isn't thinking about his long-term prospects. He's just hoping to earn a spot on the roster.

"There's time to impress, but you want to do it every play. You want to look good on every play," said Allred, who has 30 career receptions in 39 career games, 12 of them starts. "There are a lot of little things that you forget about, but it comes back to you with repetition. I feel more and more comfortable."

-- Dale Lolley

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