Alabama football: Chris Allen emerges as Tide's top pass rusher when they need it most
It’s hard to have a quiet season when you’re the top pass rusher on an Alabama defense.
And yet redshirt junior outside linebacker Chris Allen has flown somewhat under the radar in leading the No. 1 Crimson Tide in sacks and tackles for loss.
Perhaps it’s the fact he doesn’t do many interviews. Or a rough start to the year for a unit that’s steadily improved but still ranks 35th in FBS in total defense.
But the volume of airtime isn’t nearly as important as the volume of production. And in that regard, Allen has become synonymous with Bama’s national championship aspirations.
He always had the talent, coach Nick Saban said. But know he has “the knowledge and experience” to go with it.
“I think a lot of guys that we recruit to play outside linebacker didn’t really stand up and play in high school,” the coach said. “They play with their hand in the dirt because they’re bigger than everybody else in high school. So, it’s kind of a work in progress sometimes when you make them stand-up players, and Chris now is much more confident in what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to do it.”
Allen was indeed a down-in-the-dirt wrecking ball at Southern Lab High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you know, where LSU is. The 4-star prospect was ranked as 247Sports’ No. 3 outside linebacker after leading his team to a pair of state championships in 3 title game appearances.
After sparing contributions as a freshman in 2017, Allen entered the following spring as a name to watch in Tuscaloosa. But a knee injury kept him sidelined for all of 2018 and forced him to redshirt.
Allen appeared in all 13 of Alabama’s games last season but totaled just half a sack and 11 tackles.
This year, Allen is an older veteran with 3 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and 22 total tackles.
He’s the No. 1 pass-rushing threat on FBS’ 17th-ranked scoring defense. While that’s not on par with the ultra-elite units of Saban teams past, it’s pretty impressive considering Bama gave up 48 points to Ole Miss earlier this season.
Which brings us to this weekend’s Iron Bowl. A sizeable pass rush will be key to throwing Auburn quarterback Bo Nix off his rhythm — and ensuring the upset-minded Tigers don’t so much as sniff a chance at derailing the Tide’s national title hopes for the second consecutive year.
Fitting, then, that Allen represents one of the many recruiting battles that color this rivalry. He chose Alabama over Auburn, Arkansas and, yes, hometown LSU.
Saban has made a living by plucking players out of LSU’s backyard. Fellow defenders Christian Harris and Dylan Moses are current examples.
They’ll be counted on for big games Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium. And another Baton Rouge native will join them in that category for the first time.
“He’s always played hard, he’s very physical, he plays with toughness, he does have some pass-rush ability,” Saban said of Allen. “So to be able to apply those things now in games with confidence I think is probably the number one thing that’s helped him play well.”