- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXNARD, Calif. -- We’ve all heard stories about Larry Allen's strength, power and the raw athleticism that made him one of the best offensive linemen ever.
We can all recite the stories about him bench-pressing 700 pounds and chasing New Orleans linebacker Darion Connor 50 yards to prevent a touchdown as a rookie.
And we’ve all seen video of him destroying linebackers and defensive backs when he pulled, creating running lanes for Emmitt Smith.
“Across the board, he was the best football player I ever played with -- and I played with them all,” former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson said. “Troy [Aikman], Emmitt, Michael [Irvin], Deion [Sanders] ... Larry Allen was the best.
“He was also the smartest.”
That’s right. Talk to any player or coach who played with Allen during his 12 seasons in Dallas and they’ll tell you he was among the game’s most intelligent players.
Former offensive line coach Hudson Houck used to joke that Allen was the best offensive linemen on the field and in the classroom.
“He wanted to know everyone’s assignment,” six-time Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton said. “If the quarterback was rolling out, he wanted to know exactly where he was supposed to end up so he could adjust his block properly.
“He always asked a lot of questions, but he asked a lot of smart questions. He always wanted to know what we were supposed to do if the defensive player didn’t do what we thought he would do.”
Allen was a second-round pick from tiny Division II Sonoma State in the 1994 draft. Six games into the season, he was starting. The six-time All-Pro played every position except center on the offensive line.
“Do you know how smart you have to be to go from playing at Sonoma State to starting for a two-time Super Bowl champion?” Woodson said. “Think about how big that jump is. Think about the kind of offense we had in Dallas and what he ran at Sonoma State.
“I don’t know how Larry did in math or what kind of grades he made, but he understood everything about football and concepts and that’s what helped make him a great player. He anticipated things because he knew where everyone was on the field and he could adjust.”