JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Heading into the offseason, Josh Allen wasn’t exactly lost, but the Jacksonville Jaguars' outside linebacker felt like he wasn’t where he was supposed to be: Performing at an elite level.
He certainly looked like he was headed there in 2019 after setting a franchise rookie record with 10.5 sacks, but two years later, there are questions about whether he’s ever going to become the elite pass-rusher the franchise envisioned when they selected him seventh overall.
Allen admits those questions are deserved.
Since his rookie season, he has just 10 sacks in 24 games, and he’s battled injuries and struggled with consistency. He made it a priority this offseason to find his way back to the way he played in 2019.
“I was really trying to craft myself, really trying to just find myself again,” Allen said. “Find that mentality. Find my mindset of how I want to approach the game again, because I feel like I lost that ...
“I feel like I’m at a good spot right now. Coming back into the building, that energy, I felt like I needed to do more, and that’s the energy I expected to have back in here.”
Allen trained at EXOS in Phoenix for several weeks. He also worked out with former NFL defensive end Bertrand Berry at Train’s Station in Phoenix. Allen capped off the first part of the offseason by attending Von Miller’s annual pass-rush summit in Nevada last Saturday.
Allen said his training focused a lot on movement and durability, not necessarily on pass-rushing moves and counters. But as much as the physical work was beneficial, Allen said he was also trying to recapture the feeling he had when he was playing well as a rookie. Allen said he can see a difference from the past two seasons.
“I wanted to build my body to withstand durability. Lot of movement, just getting a football feel,” he said. “… I feel like I’m moving better than I have been in a long time.
“That’s the growth I really needed. I needed to come back a football player. Not a pass-rusher, but a football player, and move like it.”
That’s a good thing because 2022 is a critical season for Allen. Although the team picked up his fifth-year option this spring, his chances of getting a long-term contract any time soon depends on what happens in his fourth season.
Allen had a disappointing second season, missing eight games with a knee injury and recording just 2.5 sacks and 13 tackles. He said previously he believes the injury and lack of production is related to the virtual offseason teams had because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allen was better last season with 7.5 sacks, a career-high 71 tackles, and his first career interception, but he lacked consistency. He had 5.5 sacks in his first eight games, capped by the best game of his career against the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Josh Allen, when he had a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and eight tackles in the Jaguars’ 9-6 upset at TIAA Bank Field.
However, he had just three quarterback hits, two tackles for a loss, and no sacks over the next eight games (he missed one because of COVID-19 protocols) before a two-sack performance in the Jaguars’ 26-11 upset of the Indianapolis Colts in the season finale.
He knows that he can’t disappear like that if he wants to be an elite player.
“Just be consistent,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Just be who he is. Don’t try to do anything other than just be Josh Allen. Let his talent speak for itself. Feed off of the guys around him and step up as a leader, which we’ve seen him do since he’s been back.
“He’s an excitable player, someone that can make a lot of plays on defense, and I think with some of the new additions that he’ll be able to get back to that.”
The main addition is No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, whom the Jaguars have working at outside linebacker opposite Allen. The belief is that teams won’t be able to concentrate on stopping Allen with Walker on the other side and that should free Allen up to make more plays.
That’s what happened in his rookie season. Allen benefitted from the presence of former Jaguars defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, who combined for 14.5 sacks and 45 quarterback hits. In addition to his team-high 10.5 sacks that season, Allen also had 23 quarterback hits – just two fewer than he had in the past two seasons combined.
The additions of linebacker Devin Lloyd (drafted 27th overall in April) and free-agent defensive end Arden Key (career-high 6.5 sacks last season with the San Francisco 49ers) also should help a pass rush that generated only 32 sacks in 2021 (fewer than all but four teams).
“I think [the additions] can only help him,” Pederson said. “And it takes a little pressure or stress, whatever, off of him. If the success is there, and we hope it is, as teams scheme us on defense, that it may be it frees up Josh to be able to be more of what he was just a couple years ago, and getting back to that. I think having those pieces around him can do that.”
Defensive end Dawuane Smoot said he’s noticed a difference in Allen this spring.
“I’ve seen that he’s a more vocal leader,” Smoot said. “I feel like he’s really stepping up in that category and leading us through all this craziness that’s been going on. Lot of different changes. Lot of new things.
“… I know a big thing this year: He really took his preparation really serious.”
Allen said he had to because he has a lot to prove.
“I know I needed to grow,” he said. “I know I’m better than what I’ve been doing, so I really had to reassert myself and pick up my standards.”