MANKATO, Minn. -- In offseasons past, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen fancied himself as a bit of a thrill seeker. He went skydiving in Arizona; bagged a red stag and bungee jumped in New Zealand; and hunted black bear in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho. Did we also mention that he ran with the bulls in Pamplona?
This year, he dialed it back. Way back. He mostly spent time at home with his wife, Amy, and their nine-month-old daughter, Brinley Noelle.
"That's the greatest thing ever," Allen said, "just being a dad."
His offseason might have been tame, but don't think it turned Allen lame. Coming off a 2011 season in which he led the league in sacks with 22 -- he fell half of a sack short of equaling Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record -- he's as eager as always to go stalking quarterbacks.
And no player has done that better than Allen since he came into the league as a fourth-round draft pick of the Chiefs in 2004. In his eight seasons, he has 105 sacks -- more than any other player in that time.
Allen was just approaching his prime when the Vikings acquired him from Kansas City in a trade in April 2008. The Vikings liked Allen enough to send their first-round draft pick and two third-round picks to the Chiefs. Four years later, Allen remains one of the premier pass rushers in the league and a leader on a roster laden with a lot of young players.
Allen, who turned 30 in early April, reflected on how quickly time has passed after a recent training camp practice at Minnesota State College.
"It's amazing how time flies," he said. "I'm going into my fifth season here in Minnesota, my ninth season in the NFL, and you can see a difference. There's only a handful of us that are 30 or older. And to see how few guys are married goes to show you how young this team is."
Among the Vikings, only cornerback Antoine Winfield (35), third-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels (33), defensive tackle Kevin Williams (32 in August), long snapper Cullen Loeffler (31) and punter Chris Kluwe (31 in December) are older than Allen. Those half-dozen players comprise the Vikings' elders, so to speak.
Given the youthful nature of the roster and the fact that the Vikings are coming off the worst record (3-13) in franchise history, you might think coach Leslie Frazier went to his senior players and encouraged them to step up as leaders. But that didn't happen.
"If that's the case [being asked to lead], then you're not doing your job," Allen said. "They know who I am and how I operate. I'm going to lead by example. If I feel something needs to be said, I'll say it. But if not ... I just feel like the best way to show somebody how to do something is to do it yourself.
"At the end of the day, they know what kind of effort and energy I'm going to put into this team. They know my heart is in it and I want to win. And not just me; Kevin, Antoine, those other guys have proven their work ethics, and that's why they're here. That's why Coach trusts us to kind of take control and show these young guys how to do it."
Frazier said, "It's a big deal having a guy like Jared. He's such an energetic, emotional guy, and he plays with such passion that it spills over to the rest of the players. When you have a veteran player who is a superstar like he is, who plays on the line like he does, with a young team like we're going to be, he sets a great example for everyone else on how to practice, how to approach meetings and what it takes to be successful in the league. He eliminates some of the words I have to say because the young guys will look at him and how he practices and think,
It's not a stretch to think that Allen could have broken the single-season sack mark last season. Although he had multiple sacks in six games, including a monstrous, 3.5-sack performance against the Bears, he went sackless in three games. In one game against Green Bay, Rodgers ran into one of his linemen and fell down, with Allen coming in to tag him. But Allen lost that sack three days later when a review of film by the league changed it to a team sack.
The NFL has become such a passing league -- only four of the 32 teams (the Broncos, Texans, Jaguars and 49ers) had more running plays than passing plays last year -- that someone is likely to break Strahan's sack record.
"I think so, the more this league passes," said Allen, who in the last five years has notched 15.5, 14.5, 14.5, 11 and 22 sacks. "I'll use [Cowboys linebacker] DeMarcus Ware as an example. There's a guy who can play end and linebacker, and there are so many matchups the 3-4 [defense] can create. I look at last year. There are probably five sacks I could have had and missed."
To label Allen strictly as a sack hound would be like thinking Frank Caliendo can impersonate only John Madden. Allen, who takes pride in being a complete end, had 86 tackles last season (fifth on the Vikings), including 25 for loss; intercepted one pass; broke up three passes; and forced four fumbles.
"He just gives you 100 percent," said Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who usually lines up next to Allen. "He's not going to take a play off. You see it on the field. He makes a lot of plays."
Few would have imagined such a sensational career for Allen when he came out of Idaho State as a fourth-round draft pick nine years ago, but now you could argue that he is the premier defensive end in the NFL.
"I think so," said Frazier, who worked with Dwight Freeney for two years when Frazier was an assistant coach with the Colts. "Those [two] guys, in my mind, are the best in the National Football League. Put them in one-on-one situations, and I'd put money on the two of them."
Coming out of college, Allen once had the reputation of a wild man. While he was with the Chiefs, he had a DUI arrest (he since has stopped drinking). And then there are all those thrill-seeking adventures on his resume. But he has settled down quite a bit. Those who knew Allen years ago might be surprised at how he describes himself now.
"I'm pretty reserved," he said. "I'm a man of faith, and I try to live my life to be a positive example and learn from my mistakes. I think what makes me a better football player is I'm constantly trying to evolve as a man."
The man has changed. He now would rather cuddle up with his baby girl than go hunting a bear. The football player looks very much the same, however. When he lines up on the field, he's ready to raise hell and raze quarterbacks.