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Coming off a career year, Jon Allen still has room to grow

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Last year was the best the Washington Commanders have seen from Jonathan Allen.

Allen, who signed a contract extension prior to the 2021 season, earned every cent of his new deal by securing a career-high nine sacks and 30 quarterback hits to go with 62 tackles. The performance earned a spot in the 2021 Pro Bowl -- the first time the former first-round pick was selected for the all-star game.

As good as Allen was in 2021, defensive line coach Sam Mills III foresees more growth from the defensive tackle.

"Jon had a great year...and we still left a lot of meat on the bone," Mills told reporters after the conclusion of mandatory minicamp.

It is an intimidating thought, considering how well Allen performed last season. He led the Commanders' defensive line in tackles, and he received the fourth-highest overall grade from Pro Football Focus among all interior defensive linemen. In terms of pass-rushing, PFF listed only Javon Hargrave and Aaron Donald with better grades.

"He's physical at the point of attack, more so than anything else," head coach Ron Rivera said during the season. "You get a lot of guys that stutter and float looking for an opportunity. Jonathan just goes forward, and it is the quickest route to the quarterback."

Mills called Allen's pass rush "relentless," which helped him become the first ever Washington defensive tackle to start in a pro bowl.

"Allen was one of the most consistent interior pass-rushers in the game this season, although he cooled off a little down the stretch," wrote PFF’s Sam Monson, who grouped Allen his top 101 players of 2021. "Allen registered 67 pressures overall, upping his career-high by 17. He made 32 defensive stops and recorded an elite 90.9 PFF pass-rushing grade."

The Washington Commanders have wrapped up their mandatory minicamp. Here are the top photos from Thursday's practice. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

While it was a standout year for Allen personally, Washington's defense did not perform well as a whole. They regressed from the second-best unit in 2020 to 22nd in 2021 and struggled to put pressure on quarterbacks. 

So, for a player like Allen who cares more about team accomplishments, that was more than enough reason to get back to work. 

"Jon was working on his game as soon as the season was over," Mills said.  

Naturally, the one question that comes to mind is how much more can someone who was among the best defensive tackles improve? And if so, what does he need to work on? 

The answer, according to Mills, is to keep immersing himself in the defensive scheme. 

"Just the understanding of the defense, understanding what offenses are trying to do to us, what they're trying to do to him in particular," Mills said. "So just paying more attention to detail." 

Allen does not believe in expectations; they do not do anything to help win games. At the same time, Allen's performance has led to many expecting him to continue improving as he enters his sixth season.  

Allen still is not worried about that. The only thing he intends to control is how he approaches his growth. That is a strategy that has worked in his favor. 

"If I go out there and do what I'm supposed to do, play hard, play physical, make sure I'm in the best shape of my life and my preparation is on point, I feel like no matter what the outcome is, I'll be happy with what I did."

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