Allen adjusting to NFL, punting well for Pats

Allen adjusting to NFL, punting well for Pats
October 11, 2013, 3:45 pm
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FOXBORO -- Patriots rookie punter Ryan Allen freely admitted that he can be an excitable person.

"I'm very upbeat at all times," he said smiling in front of his locker while teammates mulled about around him. "Don't get me wrong, I have my slow, lazy, relaxing moments. But I'm very social, very outspoken. Sometimes everybody says I talk too much. These guys have all heckled me about it."

Ever since winning the team's punting gig after three-year veteran Zoltan Mesko was released at the end of training camp, Allen has gone through a crash course in learning to temper an effervescent personality that, if it leads to over-enthusiasm, could potentially make it hard for him to do his job.

"I'm not a guy who gets nerves from pressure or anything like that. It's more adrenaline," he said. "In our position, we want to be relaxed and focused. It's hard to be completely relaxed when you're in a tense situation, you got to go bang heads and make aggressive plays and stuff in front of thousands of people. It's hard to be calm and composed in front of that atmosphere. That's why they say what we do is mental, and they're right about that."

Through five regular season games, however, Allen has composed himself to the point of being statistically one of the more effective punters in football. He is tied for fourth in the NFL in punts downed inside opponents' 20-yard lines with 13, and of his 30 punts this season, only seven have been returned.

In New England's 13-6 loss to Cincinnati in Week 5, Allen had the best game of his young career, punting eight times and dropping five inside the Bengals 20-yard line. He also smashed a 53-yarder from just outside the New England end zone after the Patriots' first possession.

Though he had solid performances in weeks prior, the game in Cincinnati was Allen's most consistent.

"The first couple of games definitely, you can feel it, the different points in the game, whether we're backed up, or it's a tight game, and the score is close so each rep feels a little bit different," he said. "But now it's definitely smoothed out and it feels comfortable. It's normal."

Getting to that point has been a process, though. As recently as New England's Week 4 win over the Falcons, Allen got a lesson in adrenal management from kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

At the start of the fourth quarter in Atlanta, with the Patriots leading 13-10, Tom Brady completed a 26-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins. Allen was psyched.

"It was exciting and I was super pumped, clapping my hands and stuff," Allen said. "But Steve was just telling me, 'I know it's exciting, I know you're being a good team player, but we're only in for a select few plays and we gotta make sure we keep a level head. You can't ride the too highs and ride the too lows. You've gotta be able to come back from a bad kick or a mishandled snap. We've gotta be able to come right back. That's why there's a happy medium. We can get excited, we can get pumped, but let's do it afterwards. Let's do it after we go in and the defense is on there.'

"It's small things like that. It's a critiquing point. Obviously Steve has been around and obviously he knows what he's doing. That's who I've been listening to. He hasn't led me down the wrong way one time yet."
 
Allen credits Gostkowski and long snapper Danny Aiken -- his neighbors in the locker room -- with helping him develop a routine on the sideline that has benefitted all three.

When the Patriots have the ball, on first and second down, he may take one or two snaps from Aiken, and then punt one or two into a net. That's all the 23-year-old needs to get warm. Otherwise, he's working on his hand-to-foot coordination.

"You don't want to kick 200 times in the net throughout the game, your leg will go dead," he said. "You need to know your body. As long as you're paying attention to the game and you're focused on what you're doing when you go through your progression, that's how you stay ready if it takes a while for you to go back into the game.

"Sometimes it's funny, you'll hear somebody say it's hard to punt and then wait an hour or two and then go kick again because there's adrenaline in there and it's not like you're in there all the time to get used to it. Well, your progression should lead you up into that, you should already be ready to go."
 
If the team is in field-goal range, his progression changes. For the first time in his football career, he is a holder, which means he needs to have an eye on Gostkowski on the sideline in case he's needed to hold for practice kicks.

Allen's been a quick learner on the job, handling all his snaps so far this season, and helping Gostkowski and the field goal unit go 13-for-14 on field goals and a perfect 8-for-8 on extra points.

"Growing up playing basketball, my hands have been good," said Allen, who played shooting guard at West Salem High School in Oregon. "I have good coordination and stuff, but it was definitely a process during OTAs to learn because everything happens so fast. The snap, hold and kick is all within 1.3 seconds.

"It took me a little bit to learn small things, like guiding it with your right hand, and finding that tip of the ball to spin it and stuff. It took me a couple weeks, but as of right now everything's going very smooth and it's just a matter of getting everything perfect to give Steve the best opportunity to make every kick he can, and he's done a great job so far. "

The same can be said for Allen, who is hoping to continue to be one of the Patriots' most effective weapons in the field-position game.

When Mesko was released at the end of Patriots training camp, it was believed to be in large part a financial decision. He was set to make $1.323 million in 2013, while Allen, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner at Louisiana Tech as the nation's top punter, was in line to make the rookie minimum of $405,000.

However, since filling in for Mesko (who has since been signed by the Steelers), Allen has proven to be more than just a salary-cap bargain.

Allen knows he has big shoes to fill since Mesko was a fan favorite in New England and visible within the community, but he's only trying to be himself -- a chatty kid from Oregon with an accurate leg, still learning to deal with the inherent excitement that comes with his first job out of college.

"There's definitely a high standard here and it's just a matter of coming in and going to work each day to do my job," Allen said. "That's definitely something that I focus on. This is a business now, this is my career, and it needs to be taken seriously, and every day I'm blessed to be here. Any day could be your last day, whether from an injury or a position standpoint. I just try to come in here with a level head, and try to work as hard as I can."