Carolina Panthers

Jared Allen’s wild life leads him to Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen (69) was back in a familiar position this week – hand in the dirt, ready to rush the passer.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen (69) was back in a familiar position this week – hand in the dirt, ready to rush the passer. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Jared Allen has packed a lot into his 33 years.

The Carolina Panthers’ new defensive end has run with the bulls in Pamplona, gone bungee jumping in New Zealand and gutted more wild animals than he can recall.

Allen’s quarterbacks sacks are quantifiable. Allen has 134 sacks since entering the NFL as a fourth-round pick from Idaho State in 2004, the most among active players and No. 9 all-time.

But one thing the adventure-seeking Allen has not done is play in a Super Bowl.

Allen, acquired this week in a trade with Chicago, pointed out the obvious: The Panthers (3-0) have a long way to go before talking about the Super Bowl.

But the 12-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler is in a better spot than he was with the winless Bears.

“Anybody in the league would be lying to you if they told you that wasn’t an aspiration. I’m sure every guy that’s ended his career without a ring, that’s probably a little sore spot,” Allen said. “I’ve had as much personal success as you could ask for. Obviously, I’ve got personal goals I’m still trying to reach. So there’s always that. But the ultimate goal is the ring.”

This week’s trade was beneficial for all parties.

The Panthers made a low-cost move to improve their pass rush. The Bears dealt a player who was out of place as an outside linebacker in their new 3-4 defensive scheme.

And Allen joined a winning team with a top-10 defense in which he’ll return to his more natural position as a 4-3 defensive end.

“I just know what I watch on film,” Allen said of the Panthers’ defense. “I know it’s aggressive. It’s violent. They play fast and guys seem to thrive in it.”

The Panthers hope Allen can thrive as a situational edge rusher after a disappointing stint with Chicago. They gave up only a sixth-round pick in 2016 to get him, and are on the hook for the remaining $823,529 of his salary this year. His $8.5 million salary for 2016 is not guaranteed.

Herm Edwards, Allen’s coach in Kansas City, believes getting back in a three-point stance will help Allen return to the form that made him one of the league’s most feared pass-rushers with the Chiefs and Minnesota.

Edwards said Allen also should benefit from the Panthers’ plan to use him only 35 to 40 snaps a game, beginning Sunday at Tampa Bay (1-2).

“When you play as long as he has, it’s like, OK, I can take a step back and go, ‘My ego’s not involved in this. I don’t need to play 65 plays. But the 35 that I play, they’re going to Pro Bowl plays,’ ” Edwards said.

Family tradition

Allen grew up in California, the second-oldest of four boys. Given his family background, Allen either was going to be a Marine, a rancher or a football player.

His grandfather, Ray Allen, was a highly decorated Marine who fought in five conflicts.

Ray Allen is 85 now, but everybody in the family is still afraid of the man nicknamed the “Master Blaster,” said Ron Allen, Jared’s father.

Ron Allen played running back for two seasons with the USFL’s Dallas Wranglers, who moved to Arizona after Jared was born. He was also with the Vikings briefly, but didn’t stick.

He moved to central California and became a rancher, training horses and raising Texas Longhorn cattle. He coached all of his sons in Pop Warner and was not afraid to administer tough love after he and his wife divorced.

The two older boys were living with Ron following the divorce when Jared told older brother Bryan he wanted to run away.

When Ron heard, he put Jared in his Ford Escort and drove out to the country as the sun was setting.

“I looked at Jared and said, ‘If you don’t want to live with us and you don’t want to be with this family, get out of the car,’ ” Ron Allen said in a phone interview. “I said, ‘You see those lights over there? That’s the town of Gilroy. Walk there, get a job, buy yourself a home. Don’t call me. Don’t ask for money or nothing. Just get out of my car.’”

The elder Allen drove away, looked in the rear view and saw Jared on his hands and knees, crying in the middle of the road. He backed the car up, opened the passenger door and asked his son if he still wanted to leave home.

Jared told him no.

“Get your butt in the car,” Ron Allen recalled telling his son. “Let’s go home.”

Jared was 8 at the time.

In truth, Jared reminded Ron Allen of himself as a kid: smart and rambunctious – “a hell-raiser,” as Ron said.

When he was younger, Allen never backed down from a fight or a beer. He was arrested for DUI while playing at Idaho State, a small school in a small town that Allen didn’t like.

Allen called home one day and told his dad he wanted to transfer to UCLA, where several of his friends were.

Ron Allen encouraged his son to stay and be the “big fish in the little pond.” Jared wound up winning the Buck Buchanan Award as the Division I-AA Defensive Player of the Year in 2003.

Allen’s ‘second father’

The Chiefs drafted Allen in the fourth round in 2004 mostly because of his long snapping skills. He wound up starting 10 games as a rookie and finished with nine sacks.

Edwards replaced Dick Vermeil as the Chiefs’ coach in 2006, the year Allen had two DUI arrests in Kansas City.

Edwards, who jokingly says he is Allen’s second father, had to give Allen some of the same tough love Ron Allen had.

“He was immature. We went through it. He was my guy and I grabbed him by the neck and said, OK, let’s go. And we’ve been friends ever since,” Edwards said. “It’s just a matter of someone saying you’ve got too much talent and you’re going to affect too many people if you go down this wrong road and you don’t need to go there.”

Allen went to his first Pro Bowl in 2007, when he led the league with 15.5 sacks. He signed a six-year, $73.3 million deal with Minnesota the following offseason, beginning a reign in Minneapolis when Allen was as popular as Ragnar, the Vikings’ mascot.

Allen went to four Pro Bowls during his six years with Minnesota, and regaled fans and reporters with wild tales from his offseason adventures, many of which included killing things.

Allen killed an elk with a spear and harvested a wild boar with nothing but his bare hands and a 10-inch knife. Among Allen’s many tattoos is one along his waist of a big-racked buck.

“It’s in the family,” Ron Allen said. “All his cowboy stuff is legit.”

Allen has one of the NFL’s most unique sack celebrations. He drops to a knee – making sure it doesn’t touch the ground after the NFL fined him for such in 2010 – and ropes an imaginary calf.

It’s a tribute to all the real cows he’s wrestled.

A cowboy at heart

Whenever Allen would come home from college, he’d hop on a stallion named Rockin’ Robin and ride and go chase the 26 Texas Longhorn steers on the ranch where his father worked.

“He would jump off my horse and wrestle the cows to the ground. I had a $5,000 saddle that he took out in the mud. It took me three days to clean up,” Ron Allen said. “You could hear him all the way from the house out in the cow pen, yelling and screaming, yahooing and stuff.”

Ron Allen had spent time on the rodeo circuit when he was younger, riding bulls and bareback broncs.

When he played for the Chiefs, Allen participated in a celebrity cutting horse event, in which the rider picks a calf and tries to prevent it from getting past the horse and back to the herd.

Ron Allen says his son won the event one year, a fact that did little to quell former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson’s anger when he heard Allen had participated.

“Jared’s a heck of a rider, a heck of a horseman,” Ron Allen said.

Edwards, the ex-NFL coach, added: “He ain’t no urban cowboy. He’s a real cowboy.”

Instant credibility

Allen’s life experiences and super-sized personality make him a popular guy in the locker room, and those 134 sacks give him instant credibility.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said players naturally gravitate toward Allen.

“What was really neat was Wednesday morning walking into the locker room and he was like the Pied Piper. You saw the young defensive ends asking him questions,” Rivera said. “And Mario Addison says, ‘Man, a whole lot of knowledge. I’m going to soak it all up.’ 

Edwards said marriage and fatherhood have helped Allen mature, and the former coach predicted Allen would be a good influence in the Panthers’ locker room.

“Everything those young guys are thinking about doing that will affect their career, he’s probably already done it,” Edwards said. “And he’ll tell them, ‘Hey man, look, here’s the deal.’ 

Addison was in Allen’s ear during stretching Wednesday during Allen’s first practice with the Panthers. Addison, the fifth-year defensive end, said he was trying to get pass-rushing tips from a player who came into the league when Addison was in high school.

So what was Allen’s advice?

“He said, ‘Just your use hands, man. Shoot your guns first,’ ” Addison said.

‘Below my standard’

Allen, whose 22 sacks in 2011 were one short of breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season record, is coming off the worst season of his career.

Allen had just 5.5 sacks during his first year in Chicago, which included a bout with pneumonia that caused him to lose 18 pounds.

“I fought that all year. I own it, though,” Allen said. “When I’m on the field I want to be the best. So obviously 5.5 is below my standard.”

Allen says he’s not sure how much longer he’ll play. He’s been remarkably healthy throughout his career.

Last year’s game against Green Bay, when he sat out with pneumonia, was the first Allen missed because of illness or injury since he was a rookie with the Chiefs in 2004.

“I take every year as it is – if I feel I can be productive, if I’m having fun and I feel like I can help my team win,” he said. “I know everything’s based on sacks and I’ve obviously set a high bar for myself. But for me it’s about total defensive play. If I feel that I am a positive impact on that field and I’m still having fun doing it, then I’ll continue to play.”

Rivera said Allen’s first-step quickness is “still pretty good,” and he has more appreciation for the 6-foot-6 Allen’s reach having been around him this week.

“He’s got this natural longness to him when he’s coming around the corner and he’s reaching at that quarterback,” Rivera said. “You sit there and see this extension and go, wow, this is pretty impressive.”

Passion and love

Allen will start Sunday at right defensive end, with Kony Ealy sliding to the left side to replace Charles Johnson, who is out at least eight weeks after going on short-term injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

Allen did not record a sack with the Bears this season and he has only one in his past seven games.

But everyone from Panthers’ No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb, who played with Allen in Minnesota, to Allen’s father expects him to get back on track now that he’s in a more comfortable position and scheme.

Before his high school team’s practice one evening this past week, Ron Allen recalled a conversation he had with his son before his rookie season.

“When you end your career, I want you to end it not frustrated. I want you to end it the way you came into it – with the passion and love that you have for the sport,” Ron Allen told him. “He said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m going to do, Pops.’ 

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

NFL Sack masters

All-time leaders

Player

Sacks

1. Bruce Smith

200

2. Reggie White

198

3. Kevin Greene

160

4. Chris Doleman

150.5

5. Michael Strahan

141.5

6. Jason Taylor

139.5

T7. John Randle

137.5

T7. Richard Dent

137.5

9. Jared Allen

134

10. John Abraham

133.5

Single-season leaders

Player, Team

Sacks

Year

1. Michael Strahan, New York Giants

22.5

2001

T2. Mark Gastineau, New York Jets

22

1984

T2. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs

22

2014

T2. Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings

22

2011

T5. Chris Doleman, Minnesota Vikings

21

1989

T5. Reggie White, Philadelphia Eagles

21

1987

T7. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

20.5

2012

T7. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

20.5

2014

T7. Lawrence Taylor, New York Giants

20.5

1986

T10. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys

20

2008

T10. Derrick Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs

20

1990

Note: The NFL did not recognize sacks as an official statistic until 1982.

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