Allen The Total Package For Bears
By Ryan Reiswig
Over the last decade or so, the University of California football program has churned out many players who've gone on to become amongst the best at their position in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers, Tony Gonzalez, DeSean Jackson, Nnamdi Asomugha, and even longtime kicker Ryan Longwell are several examples of former Bears who've enjoyed great, and in a few of those cases, Hall of Fame caliber careers in the NFL.
If you've paid attention to this year's Bears' football team, you've probably noticed this trend is likely to continue. Most likely, the place you've noticed this is in their wide receiving corps, which features two of the top receivers in the nation.
One is Marvin Jones, a senior wideout who will most assuredly be hearing from NFL teams once the season ends.
The other is Keenan Allen, a sophomore who in just six games so far this season has surpassed his receiving yards for all of last season. Allen is on pace to break Cal's all-time school records of 100 receptions and 1504 yards, and was recently named a third-team Phil Steele Midseason All-American. Last year Allen set the Cal true freshman record for receptions, passing former Bear great DeSean Jackson.
The native North Carolinian has the natural talent that great football players usually do, but he credits the hard work he puts into practices that enables him to separate himself from the others.
"(I get better by) just coming to practice and working hard day by day," explains Allen. "I try to get better, working on the little things - my routes, my footwork into my routes, coming out of my routes and trying to work back towards the quarterback. The little things that people don't usually look at."
Allen has one advantage this year that most receivers don't ever experience - the person throwing the ball to him is his half-brother, quarterback Zach Maynard. Both credit growing up and playing football together with giving them a greater sense of what each other is going to do on the field.
"It's definitely fun out there. I feel we have a lot of connections," says Allen. "He knows where I'm going to be and I know what he's looking for. We have a slight advantage having each other."
Maynard admits having the brotherly connection on the field is a help as well, but credits Allen's playmaking ability when things break down.
"Most of the time, as you've seen in the season so far, if a play breaks down he just breaks off his route and somehow gets open downfield somewhere and I just throw it to him," says Maynard, who transferred to Cal from the University of Buffalo. "He just has a knack for the ball. He's one of those guys who can get open through anything. He's just a great player."
One of the more memorable moments of the year so far between the two brothers happened in Cal's overtime win against Colorado, and it didn't involve Allen catching a ball at all. It did, however, showcase Allen's athletic ability.
With the Bears down 3-0 late in the first quarter, they were driving the ball into Buffalo territory when Maynard threw what at first seemed to be a wide receiver screen to Allen in the flats. This play didn't finish as most thought it would, however. Maynard took off down the opposite sideline and Allen threw him a pass which the Cal quarterback hauled in for a 27-yard reception and a first down deep in Colorado territory.
"It was crazy," remembers Maynard. "We practiced it all week, we called it up in the game and it worked to perfection. It got us in the red zone all the way down field. It was a good pass."
Being a part of a great wide receiver tandem, Allen doesn't underestimate what Jones brings to the offense opposite of him. He looks at it as a pick-your-poison situation, and is one they both thrive off of.
"It's just great, because if he's getting double coverage then I'm open, and if I'm getting double coverage then he's open," says Allen, who had a career-high 197 receiving yards against Washington and a career-high 13 receptions vs. USC earlier this year. "Basically, safeties have to pick and choose who they want to guard and whichever one they choose, then the other one's going to be open. It helps the offense out a lot."
With someone enjoying as much success as Allen has so far in his young collegiate career, player comparisons are expected. Ironically, Allen's favorite receiver and someone he molds his game after is none other than the former Bear Jackson, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and one of the top offensive threats in the NFL.
Allen's position coach and Cal's passing game coordinator Eric Kiesau coached Jackson in 2005 during his first stint as Cal's wide receivers coach, and he sees many similarities between the two wideouts.
"I think the similarities between Keenan and DeSean are that both of their understandings of the game of football is superior," says Kiesau. "They're so smart, they know where guys are. They know where the voids are in the defense, they know which angles to take, and I think that's why (Keenan) does such a good job at getting yards after the catch."
Another similarity between Jackson's and Allen's collegiate careers is the early success they both had, with both sharing a piece of a school record by becoming the two fastest Cal players to reach the 1,000-yard career receiving mark in their 16th collegiate game. Kiesau believes this is a result of them having confidence in their own games, no matter what situation was presented to them.
"There are some guys who just step right in and say 'Let's go. I don't care who's in front of me, I don't care if you're a fifth year senior, I don't care if it's the Trojans, whoever,'" says Kiesau, in his first year as Allen's position coach. "These guys both stepped in and were dynamite from the first practice they were here."
A self-described "chill person" off the field, Allen is all business when he steps foot on it, even if it's a practice. This doesn't mean he doesn't like to have fun and enjoy himself though.
"The smile on his face, his work ethic, the way he practices, that's the good thing about Keenan is he goes (hard) every day," says Kiesau. "He's an absolute joy to be around. He's the total package."
Having a coach describe you as the "total package" is the ultimate compliment. It, in essence, says you have no real weaknesses in your game.
What could make the "total package" seem more intimidating? On top of his already frightening talent, maybe what Allen describes himself like on game days.
"I'm mean," says Allen. "I just turn into an animal."
And for opposing defenses he's quite a Bear to deal with.