When Ricardo Allen got cut months after being drafted by Atlanta in the fifth round, he could have let the unexpected hardship affect him in two extremely different ways. He could have remained upset and held grudges as he joined the practice squad, or he could have conceded that, maybe, it happened for a reason.
Allen opted for the latter path, and by doing so, has been able to grow into a valuable member of Dan Quinn's defense. Heading into Week 13's matchup in Tampa Bay, the 5-foot-9 DB leads the Falcons with three interceptions and, after moving from cornerback, has taken on a leadership role at free safety.
"I think that probably was the best thing that could have happened to me last year," he said of being cut. "When it happened, you're like, 'Why did this happen to me? I think I'm better than some people on this team. I know I can help somewhere on special teams.'
"And then you realize it's bigger than you. It's bigger than you in that maybe you (have) some growing to do."
In 2014, Allen was able to figure out why NFL players succeed and, more importantly, why they fail. This experience taught him the difference between good and great players is often the focus placed on minute details. So he began putting in a lot more work off the field.
Constantly poring over tape has helped Allen make a relatively smooth conversion to his new role, and it's paid off a number of times—including Sunday's contest against the Vikings, when he picked off Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone.
Allen admitted Monday that, in the past, he'd let QBs influence him negatively. Accepting this, he asked himself, "What can I do to change it up on them and actually make it a chess game with me and them?"
"It comes with a lot of hours of film study. You start to notice—you just watch over and over—you start to notice what they're really trying to do to you," he said. "What they're doing before the play, what they're doing once the play starts."
On the play that led to his third INT of 2015, Allen felt Minnesota's tight end, Kyle Rudolph, coming up the seam right as Bridgewater pump faked to the outside. By examining lots of Bridgewater's throws, he recognized the young quarterback was trying to get him off the ball.
"That's a false one every time," Allen explained. "If he looks at his read, pumps you that way, don't ever go for it because he's coming back for something else."
Smart enough not to bite, Allen broke towards Rudolph right as Bridgewater faked, quickly made up a lot of ground, leaped in the air and created a huge turnover. For the second consecutive game, the 23-year-old brought an end to what appeared to be a scoring drive.
"When you play middle field safety, which Ricardo does a lot, you know some routes are going to challenge you," said Quinn. "That's one we've practice a bunch, and I thought he played it just right."