Ricardo Allen didn’t just sit around while he recovered from the torn Achilles he suffered last season. He used his recovery time as an opportunity to learn more about this game that he loves — and not just his own side of the ball.
“Last year when I was sitting down, I really took a deep study on the offense to try to figure out really what they’re doing,” Allen told reporters during training camp. “I always understood the gist of what the offense was trying to target against us, but now I took it so deep as even studying what the quarterback — what his reads are. If he sees something, what are the wide receivers’ checks? If they see a blitz coming, what read is he going to go with first? I’m trying to figure out the same thing that offensive coordinators are trying to train a quarterback to do.
The Falcons selected Allen as a cornerback out of Purdue in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Allen became a fan favorite thanks in part to his time on Hard Knocks during his rookie preseason. He was cut, then added to the practice squad. He was added to the active roster toward the end of the 2014 season, but his biggest opportunity came when Dan Quinn transitioned him to free safety.
His drive to learn was a factor in successfully transitioning to a new position, and it’s something that hasn’t diminished over his years in the NFL. Even tearing his Achilles didn’t put a damper on that. Allen said that he spent about the first month after his Achilles was surgically repaired studying the defense.
“I really tried to learn every defense,” Allen said. “Split coverage — I knew we were only running at that point in time single high defenses a lot, but I started covering two-high safeties, I started studying defensive line play.”
And then Allen got bored, so he switched over to studying offense.
“And when I got bored on the defensive side, I just went back to the old school — I went all the way back (to) Bill Walsh, the beginning of the West Coast,” Allen said. “I went back to Shanahan to when he was here, to all the stuff that he was running and stuff in practice and just trying to learn as much from the coordinators and the people who actually invented the offense and the people with the most knowledge. And I was just studying them over and over, like if I was a quarterback or if I was a wide receiver or a running back trying to learn an offense. I was trying to learn it from just a foundation of it. I got bored, so I did something.”
Let’s just take a moment to recognize that Ricardo Allen loves football so much that he spent his recovery time intently studying the game to get a better understanding of it on both sides of the ball, because that’s pretty awesome.
It’s also not a bit surprising from Allen, who’s always immersed in the game.
“I had my tablet and all. I usually keep my tablet with me, and I carry books around,” Allen said. “If you all always see, I’ve always got a book in my hand or in my locker. I’m just always trying to do the deep studying.”
Learning the intricacies of offenses will help him as a defender now, and that’s part of what Allen wants to achieve. But that’s not his end game.
“After I’m done with (playing in the NFL), I know I want to ... probably try to be a coach,” Allen said. “So later on, it’s just a good transition. I want to try to be an offensive coordinator.”
We’ve seen Raheem Morris successfully transition from the defensive side of the ball to the Falcons’ wide receivers coach. It helps when you have talent like Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley to work with, not to mention Matt Ryan throwing to them. But Morris’ experience on defense helps him anticipate how to take advantage of opposing defenses. That would be an asset for Allen, too.
“I understand defense in and out,” Allen said. “I understand exactly how to manipulate and how to make people do exactly what I want them to do, so later on in life, I’ll try to transition over, probably, and be an offensive coordinator.”
Allen didn’t stop at reading up on offense. He actually talked Dan Quinn into letting him sit in on offensive meetings during OTAs.
“While all the young bucks and the rookies were getting the messages and the new defense installed to them, I was in the offensive side listening to the way they like to install stuff,” Allen said. “So I’m trying to learn both sides. I want to be able to do it so I can learn how to have the same vocabulary, learn how to call it from the offensive side. It’ll be an easy transition when I’m done.”
Matt Ryan said that having a defensive guy join the offense in meetings was unusual, but not shocking from Allen — and Allen’s presence gave the offense a different perspective.
“It’s probably the first time we’ve had a guy on the defensive side sit in our meetings,” Ryan said. “Did it surprise me? No. I talk to Ricardo — he hammers you with like a million questions every day, you know? So I know he’s really looking to gain any advantage that he can to be the best possible player he can be. And I appreciate that so much from him as a teammate. So it was cool to have him in there and also to get his perspective on … how they look at certain things.”
Allen’s focus on the offense should help him transition to coaching some day, but the holistic perspective he’s gaining on football from studying both sides of the ball will make him a better player in the here and now, too.
“I kind of see football as a chess game for real. If you can figure out what offensive coordinators are doing and stuff, you don’t have to compete with the best players on the field,” Allen said. “If you know that the coach is going to come out in certain situations or certain parts of the field or certain down and distance and they like to run these certain types of plays, I don’t have to go try to chase Julio Jones.
“I know I can’t beat Julio man-to-man. You know what I’m saying? I can’t beat him one-on-one, but if I can give myself a chance of just being around because I’ve kind of got the understanding of what the offensive coordinator is teaching him, they can’t just switch their plays on the field. You don’t just get to switch it up ... So I’m going to find a way to beat you in that.”
Ryan thinks Allen will be a great coach when the time comes, but he doesn’t expect that to be anytime soon.
“I think he’s got a great feel for what’s tough on defenses. He’s the kind of guy that, for sure, he’ll be a great coach when he’s done playing, but I’m telling him, he’s got a long way to go before he’s coaching,” Ryan said. “He’s a good player, and he’s going to make a bunch of plays for us. So that’s maybe 15 — 15 years down the road. He’s got a lot of playing to do before then.”
And all of this time Allen has spent on studying both sides of the ball will be a benefit for the Falcons.
“So if I can get a jump on that, where I can tell the players around me, shoot, it’s going to be much more tips, it’s going to be much more picks, interceptions,” Allen said. “That’s how you play good football.”