Allen stays positive despite changes on Vikings line
MANKATO — When the Minnesota Vikings open the regular season on Sept. 11, Jared Allen might look down the defensive line and do a double take.
There's a good chance that, when the Vikings take the field in San Diego that day, Allen will be the only defensive lineman on the field who started for the team last season.
Allen has amassed 40 sacks in his first three seasons with the Vikings, after being traded to Minnesota from Kansas City prior to the 2008 NFL Draft. During those three seasons, he was flanked on the Vikings' line by tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, and defensive end Ray Edwards.
Edwards signed with Atlanta as a free agent, Pat Williams has not signed with anyone yet, and may retire. Kevin Williams could be suspended for the first four games of the regular season, as the result of testing positive for a weight loss supplement in 2008.
"It's tough," Allen said. "We had a good run for three years with our defensive line.
"I don't want to talk about Kevin or bring any attention to it. I'm hoping they'll forget about it. We need other guys to step up and take over those roles."
Despite the changes around him, Allen, 29, appears refreshed and ready to chase his fifth consecutive season with double-digit sacks. He led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in 2007, his final season in Kansas City. He put up 14.5 sacks in each of his first two seasons in Minnesota, before slipping to 11 last season.
Allen has 83 sacks in his seven NFL seasons and is one of just two players, along with Reggie White, to have three consecutive seasons with 14.5 or more sacks.
"I'll continue to compete and work hard and do what I need to do for the team," said Allen, who appears to have slimmed down from his listed playing size of 6-feet-6, 270 pounds. "Last year was so disappointing all the way around. It's nice to come back with a fresh start and nice to have the chance to see this team reach the potential it has."
The Vikings could have as many as six new starters on defense this season, after going 6-10 last year and finishing 18th in points allowed.
Head coach Leslie Frazier insisted this week that the word "rebuilding" should not be connected to the 2011 Vikings. Allen said he couldn't agree more with his coach.
"That's one of the big reasons why I decided to come here in the first place," Allen said. "Every year, our management does something to put us in contention. That's all you can ask for as a player. I've been on teams that say they're not rebuilding and they end up 4-12.
"To have that mindset from your head coach is awesome. Seeing the players we acquired to back that up is awesome."
The Vikings entered last season with all but one starter returning from an NFC North Division title team that went 12-4 in 2009 and lost to New Orleans in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. Allen said that may have caused some players to lose focus last season, but he said he that's not an issue this year.
"We expect to get back to where we were," he said. "After last year, with all that went on, everybody's here to work. There's an an energy and a focus. Everybody's enthused. Personally, my attitude's 10 times better than it was last year. I'm ready to roll."