At this time last year, Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback Brandon Allen was competing for a spot on the team’s roster. And he hardly got any reps in practice.
Allen was the Bengals “COVID quarterback” last season. He was supposed to learn the offense, stay away from the other quarterbacks because of coronavirus contact tracing protocols and be prepared in case the team needed him.
Allen spent the first 10 weeks of the regular season on the Bengals practice squad. But he immediately became the team’s starter after Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury. After Allen averaged 185 passing yards and a touchdown per game in 2020, he solidified his spot as the Bengals backup quarterback behind Burrow in 2021.
“I’m not standing 100 yards away from everyone this year,” Allen said. “I’m obviously getting a much better feel for the guys around me, for the offense, for all the things that go into playing quarterback like the timing of routes. I’m getting a much better jump.”
Since Burrow won’t play in the Bengals first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Allen is expected to start.
At the end of last season, Allen impressed with his ability to make reads at the line of scrimmage as well as his ability to step up in the pocket and make a deep pass. Against the Houston Texans, Allen completed deep passes down the sideline to Tee Higgins, A.J. Green and Alex Erickson to lead the Bengals to a late-season win.
Then in one of the Bengals first moves of the 2021 offseason, the Bengals gave Allen a contract extension.
“Now he gets a chance to jump back into a system he’s comfortable in,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “He gets a ton of reps. When he gets into a rhythm he’s really good. I think he’s really comfortable with what we ask him to do and those guys have a lot of confidence in him when he’s at the helm as well. That’s what you want from your backup.”
Since the Bengals’ offense added new personnel and developed young players like Burrow and Higgins, Allen said there could be a few notable differences in the Bengals offense this season.
One of them is that the quarterbacks have more freedom at the line of scrimmage.
“If we see certain coverages or ways guys are playing on defense, we have a lot of liberty to change the play and find what would work against that,” Allen said. “We’ve added some wrinkles, and there are a lot of technique changes on certain things we were doing last year that we’re doing very similar this year. But small technique things will make us better as an offense.”
During the offseason, Allen said the coaching staff and the quarterbacks had meetings where they discussed what worked well and what didn’t for the offense in 2020. The Bengals addressed two of their weaknesses in the draft and free agency by selecting wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and signing offensive tackle Riley Reiff.
“Having time to go back and look at what you did well last season and what you can work off of that you did well, there’s a lot of that,” Allen said. “And then there’s a little bit of us having new talent in that offense and maybe tailoring some things to what they do well. That’s just working with what you have and trying to find the strengths of every part of your offense.”
Allen, a 2016 sixth round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, didn’t make an NFL team after final cuts in 2019 or 2020. While his status with the Bengals is more certain in 2021, Allen has offered advice to the Bengals young players about making the most out of training camp and the preseason.
“For me, when I was a young guy playing in those preseason games, every team was watching,” Allen said. “Every team watches that preseason game, and what may not be a good fit for you somewhere could be a great fit for you somewhere else. Put in your best foot forward and show you belong in this league. Those preseason games get you a long way.”