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With Wyoming experience in tow, Josh Allen eager for second season with Bills

May 11, 2019

LARAMIE -- As encouraging as his rookie season was in the NFL, it was equally as frustrating for Josh Allen.

That’s because the Buffalo Bills’ potential cornerstone player didn’t get to consistently display the rocket arm and the underrated athleticism that made him one of the top prospects in last year’s NFL Draft coming out of Wyoming. The Bills made Allen the highest-drafted player in program history by taking him seventh overall and inserted him into the starting lineup in their Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Allen got the starting nod in each of the next four games with Buffalo splitting them. But just as Allen said he was starting to get comfortable in coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense, he took an inadvertent helmet to his throwing elbow from Whitney Mercilus in the Bills’ mid-October loss at Houston that kept him out for a month.

“It was super frustrating,” Allen said. “It hurt like a son of a gun, too. I can tell you that. It wasn’t fun. Really the tough part was that I did start throwing good. The game started slowing down a little bit. I understood what I was doing. The ball was coming out of my hand nice that day.”

A bye week gave Allen more time to heal before making his return against the Jacksonville Jaguars in late November. Second-year coach Sean McDermott stuck with Allen, who started the Bills’ final six games ahead of veterans Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley and played in all 12 in which he was available during his first professional season.

As he prepares for an encore, the reality is the Bills are Allen’s team. Even if he’s doing his best to stay humble about it.

“I’m still going out there and trying to earn the new guys’ respect. Nothing’s really a given,” Allen said. “Getting out and showing how hard I work, how much I want to win and developing that camaraderie and that relationship off the field.”

Photos: Former Wyoming star Josh Allen’s rookie season in the NFL

Allen flashed as much potential as any rookie when he was on the field. He accounted for 2,705 yards of offense and 18 total touchdowns -- a rookie franchise record. His raw athleticism helped him extend plays and make something out of nothing when things broke down around him as Allen ran for 631 yards and eight scores.

Those eight rushing touchdowns tied Jack Kemp for the most by a Bills quarterback in a season while his rushing total surpassed Tyrod Taylor’s 580 yards in 2016 for the most in franchise history. Allen rushed for more than 95 yards in three straight games, becoming just the fourth Bills player to ever do that.

There were also the growing pains that are typical for rookies. Allen threw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) and barely completed more than half his passes (52.8 completion percentage). But he had more touchdown passes (8) than picks (7) in the final six games and saved his best for last, accounting for a season-high five scores and just one interception in the Bills’ 42-17 pasting of the Miami Dolphins in their regular-season finale.

“I was still struggling with a little bit of the protections and playcalling early in the year, but as time went along, the playbook started to become embedded in my mind,” Allen said. “Now going into year 2, going into that same system, I’m super fortunate because I can see how a new system could affect you. Now I know the type of plays we want to call, understanding what coach Daboll is wanting to call and what he’s trying to get out of it in certain situations.”

Allen also has the offense he ran at Wyoming to thank for helping him make the transition to the NFL. While spread offenses have taken over college football, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen haven’t deviated much from their traditional pro-style offense, which includes what Bohl has repeatedly referred to as a complex passing game.

Allen admitted there’s a lot of verbiage in the offense he ran for three seasons at Wyoming. Much like the NFL, he also had the freedom to read the defense pre-snap and check to a different play if he felt it was necessary.

Plays and formations have different terminology and may be more intricate in the NFL, but as far as how it’s structured, Allen said the offense he’s running in Buffalo is “dang near identical” to the one he spearheaded in college. It’s the same offense that produced Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and former No. 2 overall draft pick Carson Wentz, who played for Bohl at North Dakota State.

Quarterback Josh Allen is a fan of the Buffalo Bills’ draft

“It’s based on what the defense is doing, so that helped me prepare for what we’re doing here in Buffalo,” Allen said. “Obviously in the NFL, you usually call two plays with the possibility of three plays in the huddle at once. You go out, you examine the defense and you change the play based on the look that they give. There’s alerting a play from 1 to 2, there’s killing a play, and if you see a certain look and you want to get into a completely different one, that happens in a span of 10-15 seconds. It’s very fast-paced, and you’ve got to understand what you’re doing.

“I know teams are going a lot more spread now in college, and (the playcalling) is one word or a number system. I can see how that would be tricky coming into the league trying to learn a whole new deal.”

Now that Allen is more comfortable in his new offense, the Bills would prefer he use his arm more often than his legs to make plays. Allen finished as the team’s leading rusher, something McDermott lamented during the season when he told the Buffalo News that’s “not a healthy thing.”

Buffalo is scheduled to begin the first phase of organized team activities later this month. Training camp is a little more than two months away. Allen said his focus this offseason is not only on strengthening his 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame but refining his throwing motion in order to improve his touch and accuracy.

“We want to kind of continue to work uphill, and come late June and late July, that’s when we definitely want to start feeling like we can put the ball wherever we want to put it,” Allen said.

With a clean bill of health, Allen is out to build on what he started with his new team.

“Can’t be more excited for season 2,” he said.