Chiefs defensive end Allen has put in the work to become one of the NFL’s premier sac
By RANDY COVITZ | The Kansas City Star
During Jared Allen’s rookie year, the Chiefs showed the defensive end a highlight tape of the late Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith at their best — stalking, sacking and stripping quarterbacks.
Allen sat in awe, watching Thomas blaze past offensive tackles, seemingly before the snap of the ball, and blast quarterbacks from behind, often jarring the ball loose.
Allen, who stands 6 feet 6 and weighs 270 pounds, also saw how Smith, 6-4, 273, used his long arms to grab quarterbacks who would be out of the reach of most pass rushers.
It was an up-close study of the sack, a game-altering, momentum-changing play that is football’s equivalent of baseball’s grand slam or basketball’s buzzer-beating three-point shot.
“Derrick actually taught me stuff without knowing me,” the normally high-strung Allen said in hushed, reverential tones. “He taught me stuff from the grave … how fast he got off the ball. I’d say, ‘How is he getting off the ball that fast?’ ”
Allen, in his fourth season with the Chiefs, has put the tips he acquired from Thomas and Smith to good use. He ranks second in the NFL and leads the AFC with 6.0 sacks despite playing in just four games. He also has forced two fumbles.
And Allen, just 25 years old, ranks eighth in club history with 33 1/2 sacks (and 12 forced fumbles) in following the tradition of Thomas (126 1/2 sacks), Smith (86 1/2 ), Art Still (73) and Pro Football Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan and Bobby Bell, who played before sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
“It’s such a huge play,” Allen said. “It’s an offense killer. When you lose that many yards, you lose a play, your quarterback is hurt, and now that quarterback is questioning, ‘Is this guy blocking on my back side, does he really have my back?’ You can screw up the mojo of an offense.”
In defining the art of a sack, Allen says it comes down to two things: “Get Off and Want To.”
“Get Off is No. 1,” he said. “If I can get off the ball, if I can beat that tackle on the get off, then I control what’s going on. Now, I’m on his hip, he’s trying to recover the whole time … I can knock his hand down and go around him.
“Then, it’s your will to get to the quarterback. You have it set in your mind that’s what you’re going to do, and the rest takes care of itself.”
It also takes patience and perseverance. NFL teams attempt an average of about 35 passes a game. If a pass rusher gets two sacks, he’s had a good day; three, a great day. Allen’s career best is three sacks against Washington in 2005, though he had 2 1/2 in a span of seven pass plays last week against Cincinnati.
“That’s the toughest part,” Allen said. “My first line coach, Bob Karmelowicz, gave us a stat, that if you win one out of every 19 rushes, that equals about 17 sacks a year. But can you handle failing 18 times?
“It becomes a mental game. You’ve got to use those failures to your advantage. The times you don’t get there, you have to be setting him up for the time you’re going to get there.
“A lot of it has to do with the quarterback, but it’s one of those things, where it’s a grind — but that’s where your will and want to come in.”
Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham puts Allen in a class with Thomas and Smith when it comes to sheer desire to get to the passer.
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We need to put some blitzes in to get him singled up,” Cunningham said of Allen. “We’re evolving more because his ability allows us to do other things and get him free.”•••
Allen is never satisfied with a mere sack. To him, like Thomas, the play is not a complete success unless he has drilled the ball loose from the quarterback.
“Coming from the (quarterback’s) blind side, you get so many opportunities,” Allen said. “When he’s holding that ball out, you can create a huge turnover and change the game for your team. That’s been built into me since I was little. I was taught when you’re coming out of the back, secure the tackle with the front arm and strip the ball with the other arm.
“If I get a blindside shot and force a fumble, next thing you know, instead of them getting a first-and-10 or even punting, we’ve got the ball.”
Thomas perfected the art of hacking the ball loose with a tomahawk chop and forced a franchise-record 45 fumbles in his career. Allen pops the ball with brute force.
Allen, who coincidentally won the Buck Buchanan Award at Idaho State as the outstanding defensive player in Division I-AA, is acutely aware of the heritage he’s following.
“So many great defensive players have come out of Kansas City,” Allen said. “I got a chance to meet Art Still. … Neil Smith is a big part of the community. I never got a chance to meet Derrick Thomas or Mr. Buchanan. Every time I come out on the field and see the names on the Ring of Honor, one day I’m hoping to be up there with them.
“To have Neil Smith come over, and say, ‘You’re killing them, keep it going,’ and there’s a guy who used to destroy tackles …
“I want to be the best. I want to be the best ever.”