Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dry and dry again: Jared Allen

Almost as common as the "Bernard Berrian couldn't catch a cold even if the Vikings played outdoors in December" talk that's gone on since the Vikings signed the receiver has been the dire predictions of what will happen if the team's other major off-season acquisition, Jared Allen, "falls off the wagon." Allen, you'll recall (and how could you forget?) was suspended four games (later reduced to two) in 2007 for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy after being arrested for a DUI in 2006. If he violates the league policy again, he could be slammed with a full-season suspension, and that likely played some part in the Kansas City Chiefs' willingness to let go of last year's NFL sacks leader.

Truthfully, I didn't know much about Allen prior to his eight-tackle, two-sack game against the Vikings in 2007, his first game back after serving his suspension. Since rumors of a trade surfaced in mid-April, I've dug into his history a little more, to get an idea of his future. Every story I've read paints him as a guy who partied hard right out of college, made some mistakes, and has now cleaned up his act.

Great. That's what Koren Robinson said, too. And we know how that turned out.

But Allen seems different. Yeah, I know, there's some homer-ness to that, since he's one of "our guys" now. And, unless his drinking habits led to a tragedy, stories about him are going to be of an unfailingly positive nature. I really believed Allen had turned the corner, but I always thought there was at least some small, fraction-of-one-percent chance he might surrender once again to his demons and, like too many athletes who had come before him, wreck what should be an outstanding career.

Then I read Jeffri Chadiha's piece about Allen for ESPN The Magazine. And that fraction of a percent has evaporated to zero.

Most encouraging is Allen acknowledging that his going out to bars was due to a belief in the notion that he had to cultivate an image of a wild and crazy "party guy" to fit in with teammates and, he admits, "I was single and wanted to meet chicks." Since his arrest and suspension -- he's been dry since the arrest, 20 months and counting -- he "vanished from the nightlife" and has matured considerably: "Not drinking was part of my growth as a man." In essence, he sounds like someone who drank and partied to appear cool and attract the chicks, so to speak, and no longer needs that sort of stimulus to live a happy life.

And that's the difference between Allen and Koren Robinson. Robinson spouted all the usual platitudes about how he'd turned a new leaf and didn't need alcohol anymore, and so on, but I never got a sense of the underlying reason of why he would quit drinking. With Allen, it seems a very logical procession: He wanted to look cool and establish himself as a youngster, so he drank. Now, he is a well-established star, one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, and a focal point for his team's upcoming season. Why would he need alcohol? He's already got everything. I realize I'm no expert on the insidious nature of alcohol addiction, but it seems to me that Allen's achieved everything he wanted -- though it doesn't look like he's found that "chick" yet -- so why would he need alcohol? Yes, there's the case of Koren Robinson again, but he was still a marginal NFL player. Allen's far above "marginal," and looks to be smart enough to realize that alcohol will only bring him down, not prop him up.

There's also a little bit of on-the-field good news tucked away in the article. Take a look at this sentence:

By summer 2007, Allen had dropped 20 pounds, from 280 to 260, and reported to Chiefs camp in the best shape of his life.

Allen averaged about 9.0 sacks per season his first three years in the league before exploding for 15.5 in 2007. If his giving up drinking and re-dedicating himself to football led to that kind of improvement, maybe he can sustain that level of play for 2008 and beyond -- or even improve upon it.


Anonymous said...

I really, really want Allen to stay sober and succeed mightily as a member of the Vikings. Maybe playing on the metrodome's turf will bump his sack numbers even higher. That'd be an enormous help to the team.

I love your blog. Great posts. Keep up the good work.

Jason said...

Dwight Freeney is listed at 6'1", 268 lbs.

Jared Allen is listed at 6'6", 265 lbs.

If Freeney is fast on turf (a given), I'm very interested to see how Allen does.

More good news:

Allen on grass: 33.0 sacks in 53 games.

Allen on turf: 10.0 sacks in 7 games.