Zulgad: Cutting back on Jared Allen's snaps wouldn't be bad idea
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There are two things you can always count on that will transpire this time of year in Mankato.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier will discuss his desire to keep his defensive linemen fresh by making frequent substitutions and end Jared Allen will state his distaste for leaving the field for any reason.
Allen said this week that he has been facing questions for six years about coming out of games more often, adding, "I think I've won the battle most of the time."
Allen is correct.
He has won the battle and there has been good reason for this. He's an elite pass rusher and two years ago he came within a half-sack of tying the NFL single-season record set by the Giants' Michael Strahan (22.5).
However, Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams might want to sit Allen down before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener in Detroit and explain to the five-time Pro Bowl selection that this season they will be calling the shots.
Allen might not think this would be in his best interest, but he would be wrong. And it certainly could benefit the Vikings to limit Allen a bit more in 2013.
Last season, Allen played 1,119 snaps, or 93.4 percent of the time, and finished with a team-leading 13 sacks and 79 total quarterback pressures. There's nothing wrong with those figures but they were a drop from his outstanding 2011.
Let's make one thing clear: No one is advocating drastically cutting Allen's snaps. But there a few reasons why reducing Allen's playing time wouldn't be the worst idea.
First, Allen is now 31 years old and coming off a season in which he played with a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a knee injury. He underwent surgeries for both in late January, although the procedure on the knee was described as nothing more than a "minor cleanup."
During Tuesday's practice in Mankato, Allen rolled his left ankle. Allen is one tough customer and will never admit that he's hurting, but he's not going to be as effective when that's the case.
Getting Allen a few more breathers might not keep him completely healthy, but it isn't going to hurt either.
The other factor with Allen is that he's going to be a free agent after this season and probably is going to get one more significant contract. There is a good chance it won't be in Minnesota.
If that's the case, Frazier and Williams no longer have to concern themselves with having a player who will be upset for the long term. Cutting back on Allen's playing time might tick him off but he isn't dumb. It will motivate him to prove to his coaches, and every other team, that he's better than ever.
See where we're going here?
A ticked off and motivated Allen could be more productive and, if he's fresh, then all the better.
The Vikings like the depth they have on their defensive line and it's not going to be surprising if Everson Griffen gets more and more playing time in the base defense at left end in place of Brian Robison.
But Griffen, who had eight regular-season sacks in 2012 and added another in the playoff loss at Green Bay, could be Allen's replacement in 2014 at right end. It might not be the worst idea to work him into a more regular rotation at that spot starting this year.
Griffen, like Allen, is scheduled to be a free agent after this season and keeping him happy is more important than keeping Allen happy. The guess here is that the Vikings will approach Griffen about a contract extension before the season is finished and if he's getting more time there is a better chance he wants to stay put.
There will be those who read this and believe Allen will rebel against this because he's a selfish player who only thinks of his own statistics. While it's true that Allen loves to pile up sacks, that shouldn't be viewed as a bad thing.
Show me some of the best pass rushers in NFL history - or at least since sacks became an official stat - and I'll show you a guy who could be labeled as self-centered.
That's the mental makeup of many of the men who excel at getting to the quarterback. These guys want to lead the NFL in sacks and some want to call the shots about how much they play.
But there are times a coach must put his foot down and make it clear who is in charge.
This is the year Frazier might want to do exactly that with Allen.