As newly acquired defensive end Jared Allen made his way around Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday during his first day with the Carolina Panthers, he ran into former left tackle Jordan Gross.
The two had faced off a few times, most recently two years and – for Gross – about 100 pounds ago.
“I saw Jordan. He’s about 185 pounds,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘Dude, why weren’t you this skinny when we played? I would have had so many sacks on you.’”
Allen, acquired in a trade with Chicago on Monday, is the NFL’s active sack leader with 134, good for ninth all-time. But he only had 5.5 sacks last year during an illness-plagued season, and was sackless through three games this year in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme.
I don’t have a bad thing to say (about Chicago). I just – I’m not a stand-up 3-4 guy. I gave it the old college try.
Defensive end Jared Allen, traded to Carolina on Monday, about playing out of position with the Bears
And while Allen is pumped to have gone from an 0-3 team to one that will take a 3-0 record to Tampa Bay on Sunday, Allen would likely still be in Chicago had the Bears not made him an outside linebacker under first-year coach John Fox.
“I don’t have a bad thing to say (about Chicago). I just – I’m not a stand-up 3-4 guy,” Allen said Wednesday. “I gave it the old college try.”
Allen was back in a familiar position Wednesday during his first Panthers practice – lined up at right defensive end in a three-point stance.
The bearded Allen smiled when asked about returning to a 4-3 scheme.
“That’s just where I feel comfortable. I understand the game with my hand on the ground. I feel like I can play faster, stronger. I have better leverage, I have better technique,” He said. “This is where my heart and my home is, in a 4-3 defense.”
The Panthers gave up a sixth-round draft pick in 2016 to acquire Allen, who signed a three-year, $24 million contract with Chicago in 2014.
While Allen was out of position in new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he saw Allen flash when the Bears put him in a three-point stance in certain passing situations.
There’s still something there. That’s what we’re excited about is what we saw on tape.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, on defensive end Jared Allen
Rivera mentioned a couple of quarterback hits by Allen and his Week 2 interception against Arizona when Allen batted a Carson Palmer pass into the air and dived to make his sixth career interception.
“There’s still something there,” Rivera said. “That’s what we’re excited about is what we saw on tape. They did some really good things with him and I think if we can get him back to what he did before, we’ll have a good football player.”
Allen, 33, missed a September 2014 game against Green Bay after coming down with pneumonia and losing 17 pounds. When the Bears came to Charlotte in Week 5, the 6-foot-6 Allen had dropped from 255 pounds to 238.
He did not have a sack against the Panthers, and teammates joked about how his clothes were hanging off him.
“Last year was rough and I never fully recovered from it,” said Allen, adding that his technique also played a role in his drop in productivity.
Allen has since regained the weight, and says talk that he was lighter while playing linebacker was inaccurate.
“I’ve got the same dad bod I’ve had for like the last five years – 255 and holding strong,” he said.
I’ve got the same dad bod I’ve had for like the last five years – 255 and holding strong.
Jared Allen, on rumors he had shed weight to play linebacker for the Bears
Allen has several connections with the Panthers.
He played with No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb in Minnesota and with cornerback Charles Tillman in Chicago, and played against two of Carolina’s coaches – longtime offensive lineman Ray Brown and wide receiver Ricky Proehl.
“So that makes you feel real old,” he said.
But the Panthers are confident Allen can breathe life into a pass rush that has produced one sack by a defensive lineman in the past 98 drop-backs by opposing quarterbacks.
Rivera said former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher texted him and said of Allen: “Coach, you’re really going to like this guy.”
Panthers defensive end Mario Addison said he’s liked Allen since Addison’s high school days when Allen was first breaking into the league.
“He’s still got it,” Addison said. “A man that has that amount of sacks, he knows what he’s doing. One day I want to be able to say I have 134 sacks.”
Rivera said the Panthers plan to play Allen about 35-40 snaps a game to keep him fresh for pass-rush situations in the fourth quarter.
Allen said he could play as many as 80 snaps a game, but he wasn’t complaining. He left a winless team where he was out of position to join a first-place club that’s going to put him at his preferred spot.
“That’s just the coolest thing ever,” he said. “To go from last to first, you can’t help but smile.”