Going up against 300-pound offensive linemen seems like an insurmountable task. For defensive end Jonathan Allen, that was nothing compared to what he endured in 2017.
After earning a starting spot on the defensive line, the second-year player out of Anniston, Ala., suffered a Lisfranc injury during the fifth game of the season that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Allen made it a priority to get back on the field during the offseason, determined to enhance what had become a promising start.
Now, back in Richmond at 100 percent, the 23-year-old looks for his tireless work ethic in recovery to translate over to the defense.
"Probably the hardest thing I've done," Allen said of his recovery process. "Even though I had surgeries before, I've never actually missed game time. It was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do...It kind of gave me a renewed appreciation for what I do for a living. I just came back more grateful, ready to put in the extra hours that I might not have been able to do last year, might not have been willing to do last year. I'm just ready go."
Allen gained "confidence" early in the NFL, contributing two tackles per contest in the first five games of the season. When he hit IR, the Redskins struggled to keep the momentum going, going 1-4 in the next five games without the the 6-foot-3 defensive end. A fully healthy Allen is locked in on staying that way so he can improve the defensive line throughout training camp.
"Really, [my focus is] just being able to be out there and help my guys," Allen said. "We had so many injuries last year and had guys out there fighting for their lives and almost beating themselves [up] when it was just a testament how well coached we were and strong willed the guys we had out there were. At least for me, I want to go out there and be able to help my guys contribute to the team."
Learning and watching from the sidelines did not satisfy Allen, who showed the will to get back on the field by working with the team trainers to seeing a chiropractor. His recovery process motivated his teammates to succeed for him on the field, defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II said.
While Lanier had the task of replacing Allen at his position at times, he admired the fact that he was putting effort into coming back even better for the 2018 campaign.
"I could tell that he wanted to be back out there with us and be back out there with the team," Lanier said. "Somebody like that you give a lot to because they're willing to do what's best for the team."
The former Alabama standout's second go-around at training camp has allowed him to focus more on details in areas that affect his on-field performance. Allen changed his food choice from his rookie season, claiming that now he "loves Whole Foods." In his first NFL training camp, he admitted there was a lot to learn and not a lot of time to commit plays, signals and calls to memory.
"Got to put the game down. Got to eat right," Allen said of changing habits in Richmond. "Last year, my diet was not what it needed it to be. So that definitely is one aspect that I'm really focused on this year. And plus, there's so many things you can do in that rookie year that you don't have the time to learn. Trying to learn the playbook, trying to learn the technique. There's so much to do. There's literally not enough time [to learn everything]. This year, round two, being in here all offseason working out as opposed to coming in towards the end definitely gives you a lot more time to do what you got to do."
The Redskins completed their first training camp session on Thursday with a two-hour practice, where the defensive line already saw the impact of Allen's return. According to defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, not having players taking additional reps in individual work is going to be helpful during full team skill work.
"[His return] keeps everybody fresh," Hood said. "Not everybody is taking a lot of reps. Everybody is still getting that four or five a piece and all that. Developing their skills, and not only that, you don't have to kill yourself and exhaust yourself in practice because we don't have too many men out there and nobody has to do an overload because we're down a guy."