Bears' Allen out to prove he's still elite pass rusher
''I'm ready to go out and bust someone's head open, honestly,'' he said. ''That's the kind of year that I want to have. I want to have fun.''
Last season was anything but fun for him or the Bears.
Now at age 33, with a new position and playing for a new coach, Allen insists he is ready to re-establish himself as an elite player after struggling through his worst season as a pro. Tops among active players with 134 sacks, he finished with a career-low 5 1/2 a year ago.
That explains why expectations are not exactly soaring as Allen enters his 12th season. He was even asked if he still considers himself a starter.
''In my mind I still think I'm the best at what I do,'' Allen said. ''Last year (stunk), I'm not going to sugarcoat it.''
The Bears signed Allen away from Minnesota before last season to a four-year deal that guaranteed $15.5 million, hoping he would invigorate a struggling defense. The results didn't unfold that way.
After reaching double digits in sacks the previous seven seasons, Allen was slowed early by pneumonia and never showed the form that made him a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end. Chicago's defense ranked among the worst in franchise history, and the Bears made sweeping changes after finishing last in the NFC North at 5-11.
They fired general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman and replaced them with Ryan Pace and John Fox. The Bears also ditched the 4-3 defensive scheme in favor of a 3-4, moving Allen from end to outside linebacker.
''It's just hard to be on all the time, whether it's a season, whether it's a week, whether it's a day,'' Fox said. ''I think he has a lot of skill set still left in him. Things didn't go well. He got ill last year and lost a bunch of weight.''
Allen is ready for a new beginning. He's embracing the position switch and the coverage responsibilities that come with it, something he might not have done a few years ago.
''Three years ago, if you had tried to make me switch my position, I would've quit,'' Allen said. ''Honestly, because I was a knucklehead and I would've been like `No, I'm a right end and I'm going to go up against the left tackle. This is where I'm going to be, that's where he's going to be, I'm the best, you're the best, let's see what happens and play ball.'
''But coming off a year where I dealt with injuries and being sick and my production numbers were down, it kind of clears your mind. This game will humble you. However it does it, it will humble you. I got a nice little slice of humble pie last year.''
He said he is healthy, and clearly the drive still appears to be there.
He bristles at the idea that his reputation took a hit last season, no matter how brutal it was.
''I'm still the active leader in sacks,'' Allen said. ''I still did things in my first 11 years that took guys 15 years to do. So I don't know if it took a hit. I'm still proud of what I've accomplished - being top 10 all-time - but do I have goals? Do I want to put up double digits? Do I want to lead the league in sacks again? Do I want to be the only person that has three sack titles? It's funny, every fourth year in my career I've led the league in sacks. I'm hoping that continues.''
Notes: TE Martellus Bennett said he is ''not even worried about'' his contract after pushing unsuccessfully for an extension in the offseason. With two years left on his deal, he skipped voluntary offseason workouts.
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