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Kazmeir Allen has Washington's attention as possible kick return option

05132023 Rookie Mini Camp EF0062

It isn't easy for an undrafted player to stand out among draft picks and free agents during the offseason, but Kazmeir Allen has done exactly that for the Washington Commanders. 

Finding the right player to return punts and kicks has become a regular occurrence for the Commanders in recent years. Since Ron Rivera became the head coach in 2020, 10 players have returned either a punt or a kick for the team, and while some have been better than others, the fact remains that pinning down a more permanent solution at the position has been elusive. 

Enter Allen, a five-year player for UCLA with experience as a slot receiver and return specialist. There's still nearly three months until the Commanders need to make the decision on who they send back to catch kicks, but Allen is one of several options that Washington is considering right now. 

"He's a young man that most certainly has gotten our attention," Rivera said.

Allen only returned kickoffs in the last two seasons of his college career with the Bruins but managed to become one of the better specialists in the Pac-12. He finished the 2021 season first in the conference with an average of 29.1 yards per return and 17th in the NCAA in return yardage (612). In 2022, he was third in the conference with an average of 24.6 yards.

The best look at what Allen could do in the role came during UCLA's 62-33 win over USC 2021, when he returned four kickoffs for 163 yards, including a 100-yard touchdown.

"We've been close a couple times this year," head coach Chip Kelly told the Los Angeles Daily News. "He broke one earlier in the year for 73 yards, but we felt like we had a good design and a lot of guys that take a lot of pride in getting to their blocks because they know Kaz can take one home."

That 73-yarder came against Arizona five games before the road trip to face the Trojans (also a win for the Bruins). He also had a 66-yard return against Fresno State earlier in the year. The following season, Allen had back-to-back kickoff returns of 40 and 43 yards against Washington and Utah, respectively.

The key to Allen's success: he approaches returning kicks with a running back's mentality.

"I'm trying to read holes and hit the gas as fast as I can," Allen said.

For the past two years, UCLA's offense has benefited from Allen giving them a shorter field to work with. He has a career average of 27.7 yards per game, and considering Washington was 19th in the NFL with an average of 22 yards, that is production Allen's new team could use as well.

Allen missed all of the Commanders' minicamp because of injury, but he has already impressed special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor with his approach to the position.

"He's smooth," Kaczor said. "He's working on his catch mechanics. We've made just a couple little adjustments with him that he's already adopted."

What Kaczor will be paying attention to once the players return to the facility for training camp is how Allen performs in high pressure situations. Allen has already dealt with pressure; he and the other undrafted free agents know they must find a role in order to stay on the team past August. But that pressure is only going to mount as he gets more comfortable and "the lights get brighter," Kaczor said.

"The No. 1 characteristic of a returner has to be reliability and catching the football," Kaczor said. "But he, right now, looks like he's got a nice skill set."

Of course, Allen will be asked to do more than return kicks if he does earn a roster spot later this year. He will need to provide at least a modicum of production on offense, but Rivera doesn't seem worried about that. Allen did a little bit of everything for the Bruins over the last five seasons 1,312 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns. He even showed the ability to create explosive plays through moments like his 72- and 75-yard touchdowns against Stanford and Arizona State, respectively.

It's also not a guarantee that Allen will make the roster. He'll be competing with a pair of veterans -- Dax Milne and Antonio Gibson -- among several other receivers to be the primary option to return kicks.

Allen is excited for the competition, though, and he has the right mindset.

"Special teams are a key part of the game," Allen said. "Just to get the offense down to the 35, 40-yard line every time, that's my goal, and you know, most importantly, score."

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