Commentary

Allen ready, excited to help Bears win

After much failure as a Chicago foe, veteran wants to lead Bears to Super Bowl

Updated: April 1, 2014, 9:36 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As expected, Jared Allen won the news conference Monday.

No one played "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" when Allen's introduction to Chicago was over, but I'm pretty sure general manager Phil Emery was humming it. Well, it was either that or the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Tough to tell, given the way Emery has attacked the offseason.

The Vegas over/under was 2½ minutes until Allen had the media eating out of his paws. I took the under and collected.

Allen, the erstwhile Minnesota Vikings pass-rusher, has a charismatic way about him that will play well in a market in which baseball's Opening Day is almost overshadowed by the introduction of the Bears' new defensive end.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
AP Photo/Matt Marton"I want to win a Super Bowl," Jared Allen said Monday, "Let's make that clear."

It's always Bears season in Chicago.

"A few more cameras than they have in Minnesota," Allen said.

Allen, who is used to hunting bears on and off the field, is the replacement for Julius Peppers at right defensive end, the recipient of a surprising deal last week that will pay him a guaranteed $15.5 million. One high-priced free agent leaves, another comes in. Circle of life in the NFL.

Quietly wooed and signed by Emery last week, Allen is the jewel of the one-season rebuild of the once-vaunted Bears defense that devolved into a complete liability last season.

Think back to how last season ended: Peppers getting blocked by Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn on fourth-and-8, Aaron Rodgers finding Randall Cobb behind Chris Conte's coverage gaffe. It was a microcosm of the season and a fitting way to go into the offseason.

Now, with a complementary cast of defensive replacements already signed, Allen met Chicago and said all the right things, praising his new teammates and coaches with a wide-eyed, hand-waving enthusiasm.

"I think he's got a great blend of energy, just love for the game, almost a boyish love for the game and maturity," Emery said. "Any locker room can use that, and the Chicago Bears certainly can use that."

Over/under on how many times Allen will be called a "locker-room guy" by the end of training camp? Take the over.

Reputation aside, Allen gives the Bears credibility in a unit that crippled the entire defense last season. Allen is not going to pick up 22 sacks -- as he did a couple years ago -- but he will put some pressure on quarterbacks. He joins free-agent additions Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as ends. He is excited to play next to Jeremiah Ratliff.

"We're going to be a vaunted Bears defense again, and it's going to start with us up front," Allen said.

One thing is for sure: Allen, who turns 32 this week, is not coming to Chicago to fade into retirement.

"I wouldn't be here if they told me, 'Hey, you're going to be a third-down rush guy,'" Allen said. "It's just, I have a lot left in this tank. My body feels good. And, again, I feel like I can make waves. And not for me personally. I want to win a Super Bowl. Let's make that clear. And I think the Bears, with an offense and a quarterback, you always have a chance. And now you throw a good defense in that."

The only thing the former Viking forgot to say was "Beat Green Bay," but I think that's implied.

Allen spoke respectfully of the Bears' defense of the past like it was still a real thing. Yes, the Bears still have Peanut Tillman, Lance Briggs and Tim Jennings, but the past is the past. The Bears need mercenaries like Allen to help bridge the gap between that past and the future. Surely, Emery will still use prominent draft picks for the defense, preferably in the secondary.

Because of his name and his outsize personality, Allen will be considered a defensive leader. He just has to play like it all season. Because he was a premier free agent, the team slotted money for him to be a dominant presence. Fans expect Pro Bowl performance. Allen, I'm sure, has high expectations for himself.

That's always the rub with big-name free agents, because you're essentially paying for their highlight reel, hoping that you're not gambling on a horse ready for the pasture.

Allen had a decent 11.5 sacks last season, with 6.5 coming in the last five games when the Vikings were safely out of contention. Advanced-stats folks weren't enamored of his season. A cynic would say Allen was motivated to pump up his numbers with free agency beckoning. He disagrees.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
AP Photo/Matt MartonBears GM Phil Emery cited Jared Allen's enthusiasm and maturity as assets welcome in the locker room.

"My play speaks for itself," Allen said. "There's always circumstances on any team when you go through a year. There's highs, there's lows in a year. There's always struggles. The ins and outs of football, it is what it is, and the way I finished the year, I think, spoke a lot clearer. I'm a huge proponent of self-scout, and so I'm always continually going back and looking at where I'm at with my technique and where I'm at within a year and throughout, comparing this year and last year to the years before. And there was a time during the season where I felt there was a glitch in some technique, so I went back and watched the 2009 film and really saw it and put it together. It was right before that Green Bay game up in Green Bay and really just kinda said, 'Oh, OK.' And it's something small, a half-step here or there that can lead to big things. And so, to answer that question, just watch me play this year."

How will he compare to Peppers, an athletic marvel occasionally accused to playing at half speed? The prevailing notion is he'll look a lot better because Allen, health willing, will be playing next to better tackles. Henry Melton and Nate Collins missed most of last season with injuries. Collins is back, along with Stephen Paea and Ratliff, who played five games as a late-season pickup in 2013. Shea McClellin is being moved to linebacker, and you can expect some rookies to get playing time.

While Allen was praised by Emery for being a finisher -- rather than just a rusher -- the player knows he needs his teammates to set him up.

"One of the people that excites me the most is Jay Ratliff," Allen said. "I've gotten to know Jay over the years at the Pro Bowl. I've seen what he can do in Dallas, and when he's healthy, he's an absolute beast in the middle. I've had the fortune to play with Pat [Williams] and Kevin Williams, and he's up there on that level with them. What he can do from the nose tackle spot or the 3-technique spot, not only in the run game, but in the pass-rush game, that's huge. To have a guy that can consistently get 3 or 4 yards deep -- a quarterback's got one way to go: me or him. That, I'm really excited about. Briggs, obviously, speaks for himself. That dude is an absolute monster. Tillman, Jennings; I've watched these guys dismantle us. Six years, I never won in Soldier Field, so I'm excited to finally win at Soldier Field."

Bears fans used to rooting against No. 69 in purple are excited for that, too. Baseball began on Allen's first day in Chicago. Given the expected quality of both the Cubs and White Sox this season, the countdown is on for Allen's first day in a Bears uniform.

Cue the music.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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