Julian Edelman was MVP of Super Bowl 53 and it’s not hard to understand why. He was the most prolific offensive player on the field. In a league dominated by offense, we fixate on that side of the ball as if players who handle the ball are the only ones that can decide a game.
But in SB53, a 13-3 game dominated by defense and special teams, a case could easily have been made for a number of players other than Edelman. Like Ryan Allen. For a refresher, here are the punts Allen hit against the Rams.
His first punt at the end of the first quarter was a shorty – from the Rams 40. It was downed at the 6. His next punt was a 53-yarder (a 13-yard return and a penalty on New England hurt the net yardage). Early in the third, he punted from the Patriots 49 and pinned the Rams at their 2. Later in the third, his 43-yarder hung up long enough to result in a failed return of -1 by the Rams. And in the fourth, he dropped another plus-50 punt – this one from the LA 44 – at the 7-yard line.
It was a ballsy big-game performance from a player who has quietly turned in a pile of games just like that when the stakes were high.
The stakes for Allen remain high in the current Patriots training camp. He’s going to be locked in a duel with rookie fifth-round pick Jake Bailey from Stanford for the Patriots punting job this year.
“He’s an amazing athlete,” Allen said Monday as we talked about Bailey and the unfolding competition for a job that Allen’s held down since 2013. “I can understand why they drafted him.”
Allen, who was undrafted in 2013, was then where Bailey is now. Trying to unseat an incumbent. Allen’s competition was Zoltan Mesko, a good punter but not anywhere near as accomplished as Allen is now.
Then again, Allen didn’t have the leg Bailey does. Routinely during camp, Bailey’s hitting punts that hang in the air longer than five seconds. There’s a markedly different sound and appearance to a Bailey punt. It’s like they need shot-tracer technology.
Allen is a technician. A lefty – which Bill Belichick likes – Allen is very consistent as a directional punter and he gets situations. To borrow a golf analogy, you can’t use driver off of every tee and Allen understands that as well as knowing when to hit the high fade or the low draw. He’s got years of experience with some of the best special teams coverage guys in the league – Matt Slater and Jonathan Jones – and he knows what to do to make their jobs easier. Plus, he knows how to kick in shit weather.
Bailey isn’t nearly as nuanced yet.
But the NFL’s circle of life means Bailey – who can also handle kickoff duties – is going to get every chance to make Allen obsolete.
“You make the situation what it is,” said Allen. “You want to worry and get all caught up in competition stuff? You’re gonna have more distraction mentally for yourself.
“Embrace it,” he said. “Get better from it. I don’t care whether he’s younger or I’m older or I’m lefty or he’s righty or he’s stronger … it doesn’t matter what it is. You can always find something to better yourself. The more talent you have around you, the better you are.”
Allen said the battle isn’t with Bailey.
“As far as talking about the dynamic of competition, you’re in competition with yourself,” he said. Once the season starts, it doesn’t matter where you’re playing, here or somewhere else, you just want to be hitting it well, be confident and in your rhythm because it’s not fun when you’re second-guessing your technique. The end goal is to be ready to go after that fourth preseason game and it doesn’t really matter what the other person’s doing.
“The other person can be hitting the ball great,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned, if I’m hitting the ball good and I’m confident, that’s really what matters for anybody because that’s the only thing you can control.”
Allen understands the advantage he has. The Patriots stress special teams effectiveness as much as any team in the league. Allen is dependable. He’s seen all the elements in Foxboro. He knows what’s expected and hasn’t been daunted being in the biggest games.
“Everybody’s a little bit different as far as mechanics,” said Allen. “You gotta know what you do, what you’re good at, what makes you consistent. I just know being around for six years there’s an element of change at our position in terms of game situations, weather situations. It’s not just so black and white. You really do yourself a disservice if you go out there and you’re just looking at the mirror competition between him and I.”
Allen is far from offended that the Patriots brought someone in.
“We’ve had a good working environment,” Allen added. “Jake’s a good kid, he’s good to have around. That’s the nature of the business. Everybody thinks it’s this funky situation when there’s continuity between specialists and they bring someone in? No. Some coaches bring in a new punter every single year. Look at every other position. They have competition every year. The NFL is a revolving door and you gotta maintain and that’s the nature of the business and if you weren’t aware of it, hopefully you are now. That’s how this all plays out.”
Last year, the Patriots had a cannon-legged kicker in camp named Corey Bojorquez. He kicked the hell out of the ball all summer but never kicked in a preseason game as Allen took all 22 punts. When it came time for roster cutdowns, the Patriots released Bojorquez. The Bills claimed him and Bojorquez was immediately made the starter and Buffalo cut veteran Colton Schmidt.
If the Patriots’ aim was to hide Bojorquez to get him onto their practice squad, it didn’t work. Which means that, with Bailey, if they like him for the long-term (and spending a fifth-round pick indicates they think they will) they won’t be releasing him and taking their chances.
Allen isn’t sweating those details, though.
“Everybody’s different,” he shrugged. “I don’t compare myself a lot because everything is different. I just know and I’m blessed and proud to be able to work for this organization and the guys I’ve worked with. It’s made me better and made me a better man. And I’m just trying to be better, man.”
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