Jonathan Allen is not one to mince his words. He does not like to talk about the concept of potential, and as good as the Washington Football Team might look on paper in June, that does not help it win games in September.
With that being said, even Allen can feel the excitement surrounding the team as it heads into the second year under head coach Ron Rivera. The outlook for the franchise has completely flipped since finishing 3-13 in 2019, and now the consensus feeling is that it is heading in the right direction.
Still, there was plenty of work to do this offseason for a team that went 7-9, despite winning the NFC East. New players have been added to the roster, and the veterans have another year of experience in the offensive and defensive systems. It is still too early to give an accurate judgement, but Allen believes a better team will take the field in 2021.
"We have a good opportunity in front of us," Allen said. "We play some exciting opponents this year. There's a lot to be excited for as a Washington Football fan and player."
If there were a competition between which side of the ball had higher expectations, there is a good chance the defense would be the winner. After all, it finished 2020 in the top tier of several categories, including total sacks (6th) and total yards allowed (2nd). It gave Tom Brady and the Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers some of its biggest obstacles in the postseason.
Chase Young also upped the ante earlier this week by saying that the unit could become the best in the league this upcoming season, although he and his teammates would need to put the proper work to live up to that statement. Allen agrees on both counts, and when it comes to the pressure of reaching those goals, he said it isn't different from any other season.
"There's always pressure, no matter what year it is, no matter how you did the year before," Allen said. "You could be on a 3-13 team, and you know you're not going to the playoffs. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on each player, regardless of the situation."
The good news is that Washington's situation has markedly improved this offseason with the likes of first-round pick Jamin Davis as well as defensive backs William Jackson III and Bobby McCain adding their talents to an already stacked unit. The new faces are expected to help Washington limit giving up big plays downfield, which was one of the few issues it had last season.
A large amount of that stemmed from playing in an entirely new scheme, and Allen believes having another year to learn, combined with the new additions, will clean some of that up.
"First year in the new scheme, there's definitely going to be some communication issues," Allen said. "Everyone's definitely not going to be on the same page. ... It took almost halfway through the season before we really started to find our stride. So hopefully we can come out and we can find that faster this offseason and this year and do some great things."
As for the other side of the ball, Allen has now spent the past month lining up against Ryan Fitzpatrick and offensive linemen like Charles Leno Jr. and second-round pick Sam Cosmi. It is still too early for Allen to determine how improved it will be this season; he wants to wait until the pads go on in training camp to give an accurate judgement. However, it has been "very competitive," he said, and he is excited to see what Fitzpatrick and the other newcomers can do on the field.
Allen is not the kind of player who looks too far ahead; he prefers to focus on whatever challenge is in front of him. But even that approach reveals some positive signs for Washington's direction. The only thing left for Allen and his teammates to do is prove they can perform to their own high standards.
"We're excited about what the future holds and the opportunity we have for ourselves," Allen said.