Sizing up the fall's most intriguing players, in no particular order. Today: Senior Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen.
• Typecasting. For a guy with a little over 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns in three years, Allen has always seemed a little out of place: As a true freshman at Louisville in 2006, he was a big, between-the-tackles back in coach Bobby Petrino's show-stopping passing attack, often relegated to short-yardage and goal-line duties; as a sophomore, he slowly fell out of favor amid diminishing returns as the Cardinals began their long decline under new boss Steve Kragthorpe. And his fresh start last year at Georgia Tech came at a position otherwise occupied by pure speed backs who all came in between 30 and 60 pounds lighter than their new teammate.
Not that Allen's debut at "A-back" wasn't a wild success – he finished third on the team with 618 yards rushing on an absurd 9.7 per carry, the best average in the nation by a mile, for the No. 1 rushing, total and scoring offense in the ACC. As the 85-yard sprint at Clemson proved, he was capable of taking it the distance. But his move to fullback (or "B-back," in Tech parlance) in the spring seems like a perfect, inevitable fit. At 6'0"/230 pounds, Allen is the spitting image of departed B-back Jonathan Dwyer, who thundered to exactly 1,395 yards and a first-team All-ACC nod each of the last two seasons as the focal point of Paul Johnson's trademark triple-option scheme, which almost never fails to leave defenders' heads spinning and gaping running lanes opening up like magic. It's been a consistently productive role in Johnson's system and seems tailor-made for Allen's profile as a workhorse with some wheels.
• Best-case. Before he inherited one of the best straight-ahead runners in the country in Dwyer, Johnson's fullbacks led the team in rushing in five of his six seasons at Navy, and prior to that led Georgia Southern to back-to-back I-AA national championships in 1999 and 2000, when the original Adrian Peterson memorably turned the position into his own prolific, violent playground. Allen occasionally displayed a little power of his own last year, but the best sign for his prospects this fall was probably an impressive 15-carry, 91-yard effort in the spring game:
He should get used to the workload: Allen only cracked double-digit carries once last year, on an 11-carry, 103-yard afternoon at Virginia; including kick returns, he averaged barely five touches per game to Dwyer's seventeen. Allen is built for a much heavier load, though – at Louisville, he once carried 35 times for 275 yards against Middle Tennessee State – and ought to hold up just fine on repeated plunges into the line, at least a couple of which per game should give him a relatively free run into the secondary, anyway.It's a move-the-chains kind of gig, but Allen has shown plenty ability to move them in big, promising chunks, and should still get more than a few chances to take option pitches on the outside, as well.
• Worst-case. Allen isn't a first-rate speedster by any means (see him caught and dragged down from behind on his only breakaway run in the spring game), and doesn't have much shake in the open field once he builds a head of steam; typically, he finds a line and hits it the gas. The A-back position Allen occupied last year doesn't lead to a lot of touches, but there's typically a lot of room when they do come – before Allen led the nation in yards per carry last year, his predecessor, Roddy Jones finished No. 2 in 2008, and three different Navy A-backs finished in the top six in 2007.
In Johnson's scheme, big plays just come with the territory, and twice last year – on the 85-yarder against Clemson and a very similar 60-yard sideline sprint to set up a short touchdown at Florida State – Allen was able to get to the edge and broke away with no one in front of him to make a play. Despite his gaudy average, though, he didn't have another run of even 25 yards, suggesting he will consistently pick up what's there for him, but not a whole lot more. Obviously, there will be more obstacles in his path at the new position.
• (Moderately) Fun Fact. Allen plays piano, and has said he likes to relax by trying to play along with videos of people playing piano on YouTube. If he can't he plays Rock Band instead. ("I like to be the drummer.")
And seriously: The only reason people think he looks like T-Pain is because the tips of his dreds are blonde. OK?
• What to Expect in '10. On one hand, it seems unfair to expect a senior taking his only crack at a new position to match a player like Dwyer, who would have easily broken the school's career rushing record if he'd returned for his senior season. But Allen was tremendous when he was able to get his hands on the ball last year, and shows every sign of moving right into Dwyer's role as a consistent, occasionally explosive thumper destined for 1,000 yards whether or not he makes any safeties miss. We know this much: With the cagy Johnson pulling the strings and first-rate optioneer Josh Nesbitt guaranteed to draw his share of the attention down the line, the opportunity will certainly be there to match all of last year's chart-topping averages. Barring a crippling injury, I'd be hard-pressed to predict any regression significant enough to take the Jackets below 30 points per game, or out of the tight Coastal Division race.
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Previously (alphabetical by school): Marcell Dareus, Alabama. ... Armon Binns, Cincinnati. ... Andre Ellington, Clemson. ... Martez Wilson, Illinois. ... Tandon Doss, Indiana. ... Sean Spence, Miami. ... Aldon Smith, Missouri. ... Nate Irving, N.C. State. ... Jared Crick, Nebraska. ... Mike Adams/J.B. Shugarts, Ohio State. ... DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma. ... Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina. ... Devon Kennard, Southern Cal. ... Janzen Jackson, Tennessee. ... Christine Michael, Texas A&M. ... Akeem Ayers, UCLA. ... Warren Norman, Vanderbilt. ... Jermaine Kearse, Washington.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.