Kyle Allen showed up in Charlotte last season knowing he might never take a snap in another football game.
Today, he’s one play away from filling in for Cam Newton.
But taking the No. 2 quarterback position on the Panthers’ preseason depth chart, which was unveiled Monday, won’t make him giddy, Allen says. Even if he is performing better in camp than rookie third-round pick Will Grier.
“As a person in my position, you can never have stability,” Allen said Sunday following a training camp practice at Wofford College
“It’s about always competing, always bringing your best and being as consistent as possible. So you have that trust in yourself and everybody has that trust in you.”
Allen went unselected in the 2018 draft after playing in college at Texas A&M and Houston. He’s trying to beat out Grier to back up Newton at quarterback; or at least hold off Grier’s ascension long enough to secure a place on the regular-season roster.
Grier has the advantage of the Panthers investing a third-round pick in him; he grew up north of Charlotte in Davidson before starring at Florida and West Virginia.
But Allen has one tangible advantage over Grier, at least for now: NFL experience.
He started the final game of last season against the New Orleans Saints, which the Panthers won, 33-14. Granted, the Saints were resting players before a playoff appearance, but Allen performed well, completing 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards. He threw two touchdowns and ran for one.
And he says that changed him.
“It was huge,” Allen said. “Coming out, as an undrafted rookie, I could have never played again in my life. Getting in and playing well in that last game, it was obviously a confidence boost.”
The coaches see Allen’s advancement, and it’s reflected in his opportunities through a week of practices. He has received the same repetitions in practice as Grier, and more than the other holdover quarterback from last season, Taylor Heinicke.
As the Panthers manage Newton’s return from offseason shoulder surgery, typically resting him from throwing every third day, Allen and Grier have been thrust into practicing with the first offensive unit.
Allen says the process of establishing a position on the depth chart has been fair and transparent. It doesn’t appear to be a foregone conclusion that Grier will be anointed Newton’s backup.
They have both had strong moments. Grier appears to have the bigger downfield arm; once or twice each practice, he’ll hit a receiver for a gain of 40 or more yards that creates an emphatic response from the fans on the knoll at the Wofford College field. Allen’s best moments are typically shorter passes, and a deeper understanding of the offense thanks to his previous season with the Panthers.
“I think he’s been playing at a high level for a rookie, and I think I’ve played at a high level, too,” Allen said of himself and Grier, heading into Thursday’s first preseason game in Chicago. “I’m sure we’ll rotate pretty equally; they’ve been pretty honest and fair about everything.”
Allen isn’t rattled by competition or adversity. Widely recruited out of Scottsdale, Ariz., he joined a crowd of quarterbacks at Texas A&M that included future Heisman-winner Kyler Murray, who was this year’s No. 1 draft pick after transferring to Oklahoma. Allen transferred to Houston, won the starting job, then lost it over a string of interceptions in four games. He decided to forego his last season of college eligibility to turn pro.
The biggest impression he has left on the Panthers is calmness; be the same guy when things are going well or poorly and send that message across the offense.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said that sense of emotional steadiness increased after his lone start last season. They saw a different player in the offseason — more confident, more relaxed. Someone who believes he belongs on an NFL roster.
Allen said his priority over the winter and spring was being more decisive; moving his feet faster to be in position to make plays with his arm.
Rivera added that Allen shouldn’t try too hard to make a big play that isn’t there. Think systematically.
“When he gets a little carried away, and he wants to take the deeper throws, sometimes they’re great, but sometimes they are throws that are ill-advised,” Rivera said.
“Kyle is really cool and calm; I love his poise under pressure. You see him starting to understand the concepts even better, going through his progressions even better.”