August 21, 2014
Jared Allen won the news conference — normally a hollow victory at Halas Hall, but not this time.
‘‘Just watch me play this year,’’ Allen said Monday when asked how much he has left in the tank. ‘‘I mean, I’m in great shape. I’m a full year off of surgery on my shoulder. Workouts are going phenomenal. I’m excited. I want to believe in what I’m playing for and who I’m playing for. That’s why I’m here. . . . I feel like I’m still the best at what I do. If not the [best], one of [the best].’’
It’s one thing for a guy to be effusive, engaging, candid and excited in an offseason news conference.
But we all know that Allen is every bit as outgoing on the field. And if he carries the same attitude in the locker room — a pretty good bet — the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end could have a bigger impact on the Bears’ defense, and the entire team, than was even suspected when Allen signed a four-year, $32 million contract last week.
That’s a big part of the upgrade the Bears are looking for in replacing Julius Peppers with Allen. Peppers, low-key, soft-spoken and reticent, was a respected leader in the locker room in his four years with the Bears. But the upbeat, outspoken Allen is a different animal. The Bears got the real deal.
‘‘He’s got a great blend of energy, almost a boyish love for the game and maturity,’’ general manager Phil Emery said. ‘‘Any locker room can use that, and the Chicago Bears certainly can use that.’’
If Peppers made other defensive players better, it often was difficult to discern and certainly difficult to quantify. Allen, a whirling dervish, could make that effect much more evident.
‘‘I think we’re all attracted and gravitate toward positive people, upbeat people, people with energy,’’ Emery said. ‘‘We want to feed off of that. You saw him. He’s very determined. He’s very focused, loves football, wants to win championships, and he wants to get that done.’’
It’ll be interesting to see the impact Allen has on the Bears — on the field and off. Under Lovie Smith, the only personality the Bears really developed was us-against-them. Almost every ‘‘face of the franchise’’ — Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, Charles Tillman, Jay Cutler, Peppers among them — was or is more often than not disdainful of attention, unapproachable or unavailable in the locker room and had to be dragged to a podium.
Maybe it doesn’t make a difference in wins and losses. But, judging by the players the Bears have acquired recently, Emery and coach Marc Trestman seem to think it might. Kyle Long speaks his mind and clearly enjoys Chicago and Bears fans. Martellus Bennett is indescribably outgoing. And Allen sure sounds like the kind of leader a winning team needs. And, most important, their on-the-field credibility exceeds their personality quotient.
‘‘I wouldn’t be here if they told me, ‘You’re going to be a third-down rush guy,’ ’’ Allen said. ‘‘I have a lot left in the tank. My body feels good. I feel like I can make waves — and not for me personally. I want to win the Super Bowl. Let’s make that clear. And I think the Bears, with an offense and a quarterback, you always have a chance.’’
Whether that’s true remains to be seen. But it’s more true today than it was a week ago.