So it would appear that Jeff Allen is getting a legitimate shot at right tackle.
I must confess this is something of a shock to me. When Allen was used at RT as a replacement for the then-suspended Donald Stephenson last year, it reeked of desperation. Allen's strengths as a guard have never included lateral movement, he'd played guard for several years ... and just LOOK at him. The man LOOKS like a guard, not a tackle.
I assumed the only reason Allen was pegged to replace Stephenson last year was due to the simple fact that other, more suitable replacements didn't exist. Especially since putting Allen at RT meant removing him from LG and putting in Mike McGlynn.
(rams head into keyboard)
Sorry, that happens every time I end a sentence with "putting in Mike McGlynn."
(rams head into keyboard)
See? Told you. Every time. Anyway, now that Stephenson is back (and, if you can believe various quotes, out of the coaches' doghouse) I assumed that he would win the RT spot running away and provide some stability at the position. In the meantime, I figured Allen would fight with Zach Fulton and Paul Fanaika for the RG position (the LG position having been filled by Ben Grubbs, a wonderful move by John Dorsey).
Instead, we're approaching the first preseason game and Allen is getting the majority of the first team reps at RT, with Zach Fulton getting the RG reps and Mitch Morse getting the reps at C. What's MORE, Andy Reid was quoted by the incomparable Terez Paylor as saying that the offensive line combination of Fisher / Grubbs / Morse / Fulton / Allen "seems to be working right now."
For Andy Reid, that's a fairly blunt statement. Which means we may well be about to experience Jeff Allen at RT. The problem is that my feelings about Jeff Allen at RT have always been very negative. I think it's mostly due to the fact that I relate Allen playing RT to the Titans disaster last year. Smith faced lots of pressure that game, and so I assumed (which is always dangerous) that Allen did poorly. I also assumed I would never need to actually review his film at RT as he'd never play there again.
I was very wrong on the second assumption. Now it's time to see whether I was right about the first. I reviewed the Titans game from last season, as well as the third (and generally most "real") preseason game from last season, where Allen started at RT as well.
Of all the plays I watched, on 71 snaps (53 passing, 18 running) I was able to define whether Allen "won" or "lost" against his assignment on the play. Some plays were thrown out as the play immediately went away from him, or the defense didn't send anyone to his side (seriously). That's how we got to 71.
What's a "win?" Basically, for pass protection, it's where Allen held his man off long enough for Smith to get a pass off without having to scramble. Stepping up into the pocket is not scrambling unless it's forced unusually quickly. For a running play, a win is a win is a win. You know it when you see it. It's when he gets the big guy out of the runner's way (or keeps him out of the runner's way).
Is this scientific? No. But it's efficient and quick. I don't account technique for "wins" and losses," because as long as the job gets done I don't really care how ugly it is (this will become relevant later). I also kept track of number of QB pressures / hits / sacks allowed by Allen and running plays blown up because of a failure by Allen.
Again, I walked into this with an extremely critical eye and expectations that it would be painful to watch. Here are the numbers.
|Pass Pro Wins||Pass Pro Losses||Run Wins||Run Losses||Pressures/Hits||Sacks||Runs Blown Up|
Now first things first ... the numbers weren't as bad as I expected. Over the course of the first half dozen snaps or so of the Titans game (the game I reviewed first), Allen had three "losses" in pass protection and I was already writing a paragraph on what a disaster he was.
Then, a funny thing happened ... he got better. Quite a bit better, actually. In fact, after a REALLY shaky start, Allen ended up looking ... competent at RT.
Believe me, I was as shocked as you. But I'm duty-bound to say what I saw, even if it means saying I was wrong. And I was wrong about Allen's performance at RT last year. That's what I get for spouting off opinions without reviewing the tape.
Now make no mistake; "competent" isn't the same thing as "good." I wouldn't call Allen a good RT. But (again, after a very shaky run early in the Tennessee game) he does get the job done without being a glaring weakness in pass protection. Additionally, he's a very aggressive run blocker (this is not surprising) and is able to do some positive things in that area.
Allen plays RT in an exceedingly ugly way. By that I mean he just doesn't look like he belongs on the outside. Even though Allen is listed at a respectable 6'4, he looks ... wide. Dangit, he looks like a guard! Look at that man and tell me he doesn't look like a guard. You can't do it.
Allen's kick-slide is his biggest weakness as a pass protector. His biggest struggle was with speed rushes around the edge by players who were, well, speedy (#analysis!). You can tell watching him that he's rusty with his footwork. It seems like he has to move his feet twice as fast to go the same speed as other tackles. It just doesn't look NATURAL the way it does with, say, Donald Stephenson.
Almost every time Allen got a "loss" in pass protection it looked like the following screenshots.
The rusher doesn't do anything fancy here. He just runs far enough outside to go around Allen, who can't keep up with the speed rush. Granted, Allen was put in a bad situation with two rushers coming toward him, but he was just flat-out beaten by the defender around the edge (it's a poor snap for Jamaal Charles, too, as he fails to recognize the blitzer quickly enough).
The only reason Allen didn't have more "losses" or hits / pressures from snaps like this is that he's a very wide-bodied offensive lineman. He's able, even when beaten around the edge, to do JUST enough to stay in a defender's way and force them to take the long road to the quarterback. I never though of "wide" as a quality in a tackle, but Allen has it in spades and it makes a difference.
One interesting thing is that even though Allen struggles with his kick slide, he actually moves well in space for a guy his size. When his blocking assignment takes him to the second level on runs or screens, he's capable of moving pretty quickly (again, you wouldn't think it to look at him) and shows the ability to lock on to defenders in space. That athleticism tells me that his issues with lateral movement may be more a "rust at tackle" issue than a "can't do it" issue. That will absolutely be something to watch in the preseason.
Despite that rather major flaw, though, Allen is a competent RT. He brings a couple of strengths to the party that (at least most of the time) balance out his weakness against speed rushers.
First, Allen has a powerful base. He withstood every bull rush I saw and seemed to have a relatively easy time doing it. Perhaps these last few years of fighting with defensive tackles makes dealing with the bull rush of guys under 300 pounds a little easier.
That strength is why Allen can do things wrong and still come out ahead. I tweeted about a play like this:
One of Allen's RT snaps. Lets the rusher get into his body but has the strength to re-anchor and then finish. pic.twitter.com/UG59F5pDYO— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 10, 2015
As you can see there, Allen makes a few mistakes here from a technical standpoint, the most damaging of which is allowing the rusher to get into his body. That's a major no-no for offensive linemen as it generally allows a rusher to push the OL backward into the QB. You know, a bull rush. Like a bull and stuff (remember "Bald Bull?" Like that, but without punching because that's illegal).
But Allen is strong enough to stop the rusher in his tracks and anchor his feet, ending the rush. Further, when the rusher tries to shift his weight to go around Allen takes advantage of the opportunity and flattens him.
Like I said earlier, Allen doesn't LOOK pretty when he plays RT. But he does get the job done the majority of the time. I'm a function over form person, myself. I don't care what it looks like as long as it works, and works consistently.
In the running game, Allen is allowed to work a little more in his comfort zone. As I said earlier, he moves well in space and is very aggressive fighting defenders to make room. He also does a good job on reach blocks in the limited sample size I saw (if you'll recall, the Chiefs didn't run the ball much against the Titans. Excuse me while I go punt a kitten), walling off defenders and giving runners a lane.
The most important asset Allen brings to RT (or anywhere else on the line), though? He knows how to play offensive line. Yes, I know, more #analysis. But hear me out.
I've reviewed the Chiefs 2014 offensive line multiple times at this point. I've watched every game at least three times now (the Titans game was the last holdout and I've done that one a few times to prepare for this article). And let me tell you, he number of miscommunications and botched (at least seemingly) assignments is absolutely unreal to watch. In literally every game there are at least 3-4 snaps where a rusher or run defender went completely unblocked while an offensive lineman stood idly by.
Frankly, I saw it happen a TON with none other than Rodney Hudson, the man in charge protections and assignments (at least, if the Chiefs work the way most other teams do, with the center taking those duties). It was also a consistent problem with McGlynn (I'll give you a moment to control your shock) and seemed to happen more than a few times to Fulton and Harris as well.
I saw way, way too many plays like this last year (if your work doesn't let you view that, imagine the red sea parting then pretend the red sea is the Chiefs offensive line and the Israelites are blitzers. You'll get the idea). Plays where offensive linemen simply didn't handle their assignments. You wanted to get pressure on Alex Smith last year? Just run a quick stunt toward either side and you had a great chance at it.
What stuck out to me, after watching dozens of hours worth of muffed assignments, was how aware Allen seems of his surroundings. He picks up stunts, helps other linemen appropriately without abandoning his place on the line, recognizes blitzers, and just generally knows where to be.
Sure, that sounds basic. But we saw what happened last season when "basic" wasn't getting done. Makes you appreciate competency, no?
Take this play, for example.
This play by Allen is nothing special... but we didn't see even this level of awareness last year all too often. pic.twitter.com/6Ph16VECVA— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 11, 2015
That's not a world-beater play. Allen simply recognizes that the LB isn't blitzing and is instead dropping into coverage. He then turns his attention inside and takes on the rusher who is coming his way (with Fulton passing him off. Also huge tip of that hat to Knile Davis, who picked up the blitz really well). Again, simple. Unless he'd failed to do it, in which case the rusher would have likely split him and Fulton and gotten a free shot at Smith.
Little plays like that don't make an offensive lineman great, or even good. But they do help with competence. And competence is what I'm looking for out of the offensive line after last year's debacle. Guys who know how to do their job and (when they can) help the rest of the line do theirs. I don't think it's any coincidence Allen himself was quoted recently as saying an offensive line is five guys working together. He understands the game.
And he's capable of playing it, at least in a small sample size, at a competent level at RT. We'll see if "competent" is enough to win the job, and (more importantly) help the offensive line as a whole not drag the offense down.