Falcons starting to believe in unheralded Ricardo Allen at free safety

FLOWERY BRANCH,Ga. -- Ricardo Allen probably didn't hear it, but the Atlanta Falcons' free safety got a standing ovation from one section of the crowd following a minicamp interception.

Well, the cheering actually came from one boisterous spectator in particular -- his fiancee, Grace. But Allen deserved a rousing applause for the way he performed in camp and throughout the entire offseason. In fact, the second-year player from Purdue, cut last year after training camp then re-signed to the practice squad, is in position to secure an improbable starting role after not playing a single snap as a rookie.

"That's not my thing," Allen said when asked if he should be the starter. "I just go out and play every day. That's not my decision to make. At the end of the day, it's the coach's decision. So I'm just going to come out and compete against myself every day and better myself. And whenever I get my named called or my number called, I'll be ready."

The 5-foot-9-inch, 187-pound Allen was by far the most pleasant surprise of the offseason. He came to the Falcons as a fifth-round draft pick expected to compete for maybe the third cornerback spot. The previous coaching staff thought Allen was a highly intelligent player from the outset. What caused hesitation was Allen's 4.6 speed and lack of ideal size.

Allen eventually was elevated to the 53-man roster by season's end yet he never reached the field. His only claim to fame was a segment on HBO's "Hard Knocks" when he suffered uncomfortable swelling to his private area and suddenly developed an unfortunate nickname.

Allen wasn't too discouraged about his rookie campaign despite the setbacks.

"You've just got to take it for what it is," Allen said. "It's a blessing in disguise. You know, God has a plan for you. Yeah, it was a downfall for us. We looked at it as a setback. But you know, everybody who is at the top right now was once at the bottom. So you've just to keep going."

The Falcons experimented with cross-training Allen at safety last season, although nothing materialized. He constantly stayed late after practice working to refine his technique.

Meanwhile, the free safety situation played out much differently than expected. First, the Falcons didn't re-sign Dwight Lowery. Once Dan Quinn was named head coach, most figured the Falcons would pursue a lanky, speedy safety in free agency. They brought in veteran Darian Stewart for a visit, but Stewart committed to the Denver Broncos while in Atlanta. Then a high-priced target, Ron Parker, re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. And when D.J. Swearinger was released by the Houston Texans, the Falcons put in a claim but lost out to Tampa Bay, with the Buccaneers first in the claiming order.

Second-year player Dezmen Southward, who has the speed and size but not the ball skills, was moved from free safety to cornerback, leaving veteran Charles Godfrey as the No. 1 option before organized team activities. Quinn said Godfrey, Allen and strong safety Kemal Ishmael would compete for the spot, but Godfrey watched Allen surpass him on the depth chart. Ishmael filled in for a recovering William Moore (shoulder) at strong safety throughout the offseason.

Allen called his move to safety much easier than playing cornerback.

"I've always been a smart player," he said. "So it's just about learning the details and stuff like that and actually noticing what's about to happen to you."

Moore is impressed with Allen's emergence.

"Ricardo, No. 1, he reminds me of Ishmael last season ... how he showed up to camp, he showed up with something on his mind to get better and that's exactly what he did," Moore said. "No. 1, he's a heck of an athlete. No. 2, he's got his playbook, it seems, down pat. He spends a lot of time in the film room. Ricardo has showed up."

If Allen continues his torrid pace when the Falcons reconvene for training camp starting July, he should find himself next to Moore for the Monday Night Football opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"They brought me in for a reason last year," Allen said. "I've just got to take it and go with it -- be more confident and believe in myself."