If Vikings opponents need any more reason to fear defensive end Jared Allen, it won't help them to know that he sees his progression from 2008 to this season as being similar to that in his second season in the NFL following an impressive rookie season.
Monday morning, Allen helped stuff a pair of red zone runs by Adrian Peterson and had his teammates razzing the offense for their inability to break through the defensive front. Allen said it doesn't matter if it's a regular-season game or a morning training camp practice, you don ‘t gain yards easily on this defense.
"That's what we pride ourselves on, it's a bend-don't-break mentality when you get down (to the goal line)," Allen said. "We always say, give us an inch of grass and we'll defend it."
While the offense was sporadic last year and the special teams were brutal, the defense was the most consistent part of the three phases of the game for the Vikings. Allen wouldn't go so far as to say the defense is the dominant element of the team like it is in Baltimore or Tennessee, but he said the collection of veteran talent throughout the defense just clicks.
"Our offense is awesome, but any attention we can take away from the running game, we'll do that," Allen said. "We just play really well together. Everybody is on the same page. We put everyone in position to make plays. We have so many dominant players on this defense. It just works for us. We all play well off other. It's hard to describe. It just fits."
A year ago, there wasn't the same certainty. Allen was new to the Vikings and these training camp sessions, while viewed by many fans as little more than an annual drudgery for veteran players, was a time for learning, watching and absorbing information. This time around, Allen said he has a shorthand with the defense that has made last year's training camp a distant memory.
"It's totally different – 100 percent better," Allen said. "Last year, I was still learning the playbook and trying to get to know the guys. They were trying to get to know how I play, because at OTAs and minicamp, it's hard to see when you're just running around in shorts."
Allen made a big impression early on and the rest was history, as he became one of the best trades the Vikings made in recent years, despite costing the team a first-round pick and two third-rounders in the days prior to the 2008 draft. He brought a pass-rush dimension to the team that had been missing for years, but acknowledged he still had a learning curve going on well into the regular season. That curve has leveled off.
"Now it's a totally different game," Allen said. "Kevin (Williams) knows what I am going to do. Pat (Williams) knows what I'm going to do. I know what they're going to do. Now if I see a blocking scheme, there's no need to tell them how I'm going to play. We're just running it. Last year, I was thinking all the time. Now we're just having fun and jumping around. There's not that learning process."
Allen said his focus this year is to get to the regular season and do some damage there. The last two years, the Vikings have started the season 1-3 and had to fight their way back. In 2007, they came up short in a Week 16 loss to the Redskins. Last year, they recovered, won nine of their final 12 games and finished with a mark of 10-6. This time around, Allen said he is driven by helping the team get off to a strong start that so often leads teams with Super Bowl aspirations to the finish line.
"Everybody says you've got win in November and December, but I'll take the wins any time we can get them," Allen said. "It made the weeks stressful (last year) when you start 1-3 and you're trying to get to 2-3 and then to .500. The biggest problem was that in every game except maybe the Tennessee game, we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. The big thing is going to be to come out of the gates and set the tempo with whoever our starting quarterback is – to build that confidence and keep the momentum going so that by the time we get to November and December, we're clicking on all cylinders."
Allen looking for bigger, better things
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