Allen: Defense ‘is going to be amazing’

Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel talks to safety Ricardo Allen (37) during an NFC Championship NFL game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, January 22, 2017. The Falcons defeated the Packers 44-21. (Kevin Terrell via AP)
Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel talks to safety Ricardo Allen (37) during an NFC Championship NFL game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, January 22, 2017. The Falcons defeated the Packers 44-21. (Kevin Terrell via AP)

Kicked to the curb just three years ago, Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen has successfully made the transition from cornerback to free safety and is now an entrenched NFL starter.

He played 1,101 defensive snaps (99.1 percent), most on the team last season, in just his second year at free safety. Drafted as a cornerback in the fifth-round of the 2014 draft out of Purdue, Allen was cut and then made his way back up to roster through the practice squad.

Critical to his transformation was the arrival of coach Dan Quinn, who converted him to free safety. The position had been a black hole on the defense since Thomas DeCoud slipped from Pro Bowl status after the 2012 season.

The free safety in the Falcons defense is required to cover a lot of ground and, if things go wrong as they sometimes do, he’s the last line of defense.

With Allen’s improved play last season, the Falcons made some strides. But he knows there’s more work ahead for him and the unit when they report for training camp on July 26.

“We go from a year where we had so many people on our defense who played one or two years in this defense or in the NFL in general,” Allen told the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during last week’s minicamp. “It just comes with the experience and with more reps.

“I feel like we are going to be so much more faster and explosive as a defense.”

Allen started all 19 games and made 104 tackles, had five pass breakups and four interceptions. He cut down his missed tackles total from 19 to 11. He has followed that up with a strong offseason.

“Ricardo is playing out of his mind,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said.

The Falcons started second-year players linebacker Vic Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and cornerback Jalen Collins in the Super Bowl. Allen was also just in his second year as a free safety.

Rookie safety Keanu Neal, and linebackers Deion Jones and Devonte Campbell also started the Super Bowl.

The unit understandably stumbled about at times last season while showing flashes of toughness and guile. The Falcons were plus-11 in the turnover ratio, which was tied for fourth-most in the league.

The defense had 12 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.

However, the rest of the numbers were sub-standard. They ranked 26th in rushing yards per play (4.52 yards), 28th in passing yards per game (266.7), 26th in sacks per pass attempts (5.19), tied for 29th in first downs per game (22.4), 26th in third-down conversion percentage (41.78), 32nd in red-zone percentage (72.73) and 27th in points allowed (25.4).

Too much youth?

“That was a lot of it,” Allen said. “You are kind of learning on the run. You are learning while you’re going through the trials and tribulations and stuff like that.”

With those lessons learned, Allen believes the defense will make a big leap in 2017.

“This year, it’s more of we know what we are going to see,” Allen said. “We know that we’ve seen it all. We were blessed enough to play later than a lot of people, so we’ve got a couple more games than a lot of people. It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be really good.”

Allen is not deterred by the fact that NFC South teams spent major resources stockpiling offensive weapons.

Tampa Bay added wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and drafted Alabama tight end O.J. Howard in the first round.

New Orleans signed seven-time Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, drafted running back Alvin Kamara and signed wide receiver Ted Ginn, a deep threat.

Carolina added running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the draft.

“It’s always going to something,” Allen said. “ Every year, no matter what, you’re going against some of the best quarterbacks in the league, best running backs in the league and some of the best wide receivers and tight ends. Every offense in this (division) can easily score 28 points a game. As a defense, we have to take that as a challenge.”

Allen believes the defense has a secret weapon.

“We go against the best offense in the league every day,” Allen said. “Therefore we have to come out here and try to improve ourselves in practice and that will make the games easier. I typically don’t worry about what other people are doing, but we’ve got plenty of weapons over here that we’ve got to worry about in practice every day.

“If we can take care of what we have to take care of in practice and go against Julio (Jones), Matt (Ryan), (Taylor) Gabriel, (Mohamed) Sanu, (Devonta) Freeman, (Tevin) Coleman and the fullback and all of the tight ends that we’ve got, we shouldn’t have any problems matching up with anybody when it comes to game time.”

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