A year ago at this time, Ricardo Allen was learning not only a new defense, but a new position.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft as a cornerback, Allen spent his first season on the practice squad. After reviewing tape of the current players on the Falcons' roster when arriving in Atlanta as the new head coach, Dan Quinn envisioned a different role for Allen.
Quinn saw a player who demonstrated the ability to make tackles in open space and take command and moved him to free safety.
Last year, Allen spent an immense amount of time learning his new role. Not only he did he embrace the challenge, he took it head on and produced one of the best seasons of any player in the Falcons' secondary.
He started 14 games and recorded 68 tackles, five passes defensed, three interceptions, one sack and one fumble recovery in his second season. With a season under his belt at free safety, Allen is more comfortable and confident.
"It is much easier this year," said Allen of his transition from a year ago. "Last year, was a lot of trial and error. I was training all offseason as a corner and at nickel, and when we got to camp I was told I was a free safety. So I was watching a lot of corner tape last offseason, and now this offseason I was able to look at quarterbacks. I was able to study our run fits and gaps. I looked at what happened last year and watch quarterbacks to see what they do."
The biggest difference for the third-year safety and what separates him is his understanding of the game.
"Knowledge." Allen said when asked his what his strength is a year later. "As you continue on your career, we are all going to lose speed and strength, and all the people that rely on their athletic ability, I may not be as fast as them. But I have knowledge, and knowledge is power. Once you stop learning you are going to start losing.
I am in here every morning. I wake up at 5:45 a.m. and I am in here watching tape from 6:45 a.m. to 8 a.m. when the meetings start. I get another two or three hours at home each night. I like to watch to see what makes others successful."
Being more comfortable at the safety position and in the scheme has allowed Allen to be more of a vocal leader in the secondary this offseason on the field and in the classroom.
"I come in every day and I am consistent," Allen said on his leadership. "There has to be a vocal leader. [Desmond] Trufant is the standard, but I view myself as the one that gets everyone lined up and comes ready every day. I am going to be consistent. I view myself as a leader."
Allen's approach last year propelled him in his first season at the free safety spot, and he hopes to continue to make his mark in the upcoming season.