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DE Zach Allen finds traction after two IR stints for Cardinals

Jalen Hurts #2 of the Philadelphia Eagles is sacked by Zach Allen #94 and Andy Lee #4 of the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at State Farm Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Zach Allen knows how lonely it can be on the injured reserve list.

At the Arizona Cardinals practice facility in Tempe, he’s spent a lot of time rehabbing. The team’s weight room looks out onto the team’s practice fields, and being reminded that you’re not able to help the team can make it lonely there, Allen said.

A neck injury sent the 2019 third-round draft pick to the sideline for all but the first four games of his rookie year. This season, an ankle injury led to a month-long stint back on the reduced injured reserve.

Allen returned into a prominent role in Week 11 and over the past month back has played well enough that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph could hardly pull him off the field last week. Allen played 72 snaps, or 90% of the available defensive possessions, and finished with 11 tackles, a sack and a batted down pass.

“Definitely kind of felt like it’s all coming together a little bit,” he said Thursday. “It’s been not the easiest two years so far, but hopefully it’s just something I can build on and really build a consistent and — knock on wood — healthy career.”

Cleansing their roster of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon for non-football-related issues prior to last season, the Cardinals didn’t have much choice but to see what Allen could do as a rookie.

He played often in the first three games of 2019 before the neck injury sent him to the injured reserve.

Allen never returned, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Joseph sent the highly regarded Boston College product into the offseason with one goal: Get bigger and stronger.

Sounds simple.

It wasn’t. Not doing a lot of it by himself during a pandemic.

Allen, who is listed at 281 pounds this season, couldn’t even get started until he was fully recovered from that neck injury. He admitted draft preparation set him back as a rookie even before his injury.

“Last year, I was playing basically like 270-275, which I hadn’t done since my sophomore year in college ’cause I just lost so much weight in the combine process and there just wasn’t enough time to put it back on in the right way,” Allen said.

So the past offseason took sacrifices.

“Just working with (strength and conditioning coach) Buddy (Morris) every single day and then maybe bribing people to get into some gyms when COVID hit,” the defensive lineman said of his commitment to putting on weight. “But also the nutrition — definitely attacked that as hard as I could.

“It definitely was a lot of work. It really consumed my life — my family probably wasn’t a huge fan of it — but when you have performances like last week, it definitely makes it worth it.”

Allen’s 11-tackle performance also makes Arizona feel like using a third-round pick was worth it.

If the snap count last week didn’t say it enough, Allen has earned his coaches’ trust.

“He’s always tried to do everything like we’ve told him to do it, which as a coach you appreciate,” Kingsbury said this week. “We told him to get stronger, (he) spent all offseason here working out and getting bigger.

“He just had a couple injuries that slowed him down. To get him back out there and watch the success he’s having is cool to see. He’s a guy who was uber-productive in college — he tends to always be around the quarterback when he’s in there.”


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