Allen banking on versatility for Yellow Jackets

ATLANTA — As a player in Georgia Tech’s spread option offense, the duties and responsibilities can seem endless.

In addition to knowing a player’s specific role and where he should go on any given play, the Yellow Jackets also must each have a better-than-basic understanding of what their teammates should be doing and where they should be going on that same play.

Skill players in the backfield, most specifically, need versatility as B-backs should be able to, in theory, perform the jobs of A-backs and vice versa.

No one knows that better than Anthony Allen.

“Playing in the offense period, you have to know all the positions because you have to know where the blocks are coming from and who’s doing what,” Allen said.

Georgia Tech’s starting B-back entering fall practice — which begins Aug. 5 at Rose Bowl practice fields — Allen was one of the Yellow Jackets’ primary A-backs last season, rushing for more than 600 yards in the multi-back system.

Following a spring when he was featured at B-back, Allen now has a dose of playing multiple positions in his team’s offense. It is that flexibility that he believes will pay great dividends this season.

“Playing A-back last year really helped me out playing B-back this year because I’m knowing that on certain blocks and on certain plays, I know where my blocks are going to be coming from and what to anticipate from my A-backs,” Allen said.

For now, he should hope that such knowledge will be enough to impress his head coach starting with the opener against South Carolina State.

“Jon Dwyer was pretty versatile in our offense, too,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said, cautioning a reporter at last weekend’s ACC Kickoff about comparing Allen to last year’s starting B-back. “I’m not ready to pronounce anybody better than Jon Dwyer until I see it on the field.”

A former conference player of the year, Dwyer rushed for nearly 2,800 yards in two seasons in Johnson’s offense before leaving school a year early and being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in April.

One of the hallmarks of Dwyer’s success was his ability to run through and over defenders at the end of long runs. The practice was so routine for the quick power back that highlight tapes have been made featuring the end of his jarring runs. Allen said he believes this is an area he can improve in his game and is dedicated to doing so during practice.

“I think I finish runs for the most part as far as attacking people, but as far as my leg drive, I like to kill my legs on contact,” Allen said. “And I want to make sure that was a big emphasis this offseason, to drive my legs through everything. I’ve been pushing sleds, pulling sleds, been squatting more and trying to get my leg power up.”

In addition to increasing his strength this offseason, Allen has decreased his body fat, dropped his weight and reduced times on his runs. During seven-on-seven drills this summer, he claims his speed has been something to notice.

“I feel a lot faster now,” Allen said. “I’ve been blowing by guys. I’m not going to say any names and put them on the spot, but I’ve been blowing by guys.”

In terms of blowing by people, that’s precisely what Allen said he’s going to have to do at the line of scrimmage. For a player whose primary focus was getting to the outside edge as quickly as possible and avoiding defensive backs, the emphasis now is running right at the much more narrow spaces along the defensive line.

“Playing B-back period you have to have that mentality between the tackles that you’re going to hit it up in there,” Allen said. “You can’t go in there soft at all. It really doesn’t matter how big you are.

“That’s a big emphasis on the B-back is exploding through the hole. If you watch the Iowa tape, (you see) if you’re timid through the hole, the defensive end has a chance to check you and make sure you don’t have the ball and then go out to the quarterback.”

The Yellow Jackets rushed for 143 yards against Iowa in January’s Orange Bowl, their second lowest tally on a season that saw them win a conference championship and advance to their first-ever BCS bowl game.