Pro football is a funny game.
When cornerback Johnathan Joseph left the Bengals to join the Texans before last year's training camp, there was disappointment on both sides. But each has continued to praise the other and the Bengals are just beginning to find out how much with the official announcement that former Texans cornerback Jason Allen has joined the flock in Cincinnati.
"He's always spoken very highly of Marvin (Lewis) and Coach (Mike) Zimmer and the guys in the locker room even before this," Allen said Monday of the free agency period. "And then when I got back to him he vouched for the coaches and what they had going on defense."
Allen didn't know it then, but he got a close up view of his new team in the Bengals Wild Card loss in Houston back in January, when he took 27 snaps for the Texans and helped hold Bengals Pro Bowl rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to a 51.4 passer rating while defensing one pass and making three tackles during Houston's 31-10 victory.
But that didn't change Allen's opinion of a team that had Dalton and a Pro Bowl rookie receiver to go with him in A.J. Green.
"It's a great young team that's always had good defenses," Allen said of the run with Zimmer, the defensive coordinator going into his fifth season. "They always say the biggest improvement comes from your first year to your second year, so if that happens it's going to be incredible there.
"I see my job as coming in there to help this defense get better by helping cause turnovers and getting some interceptions. (Joseph) said that Zimmer finds a way to use your strengths."
Picking the ball off is something the 6-2, 200-pound Allen has done better than the Bengals cornerbacks have done in the past two seasons, when he has 10. He led the Texans with four interceptions last year, when Bengals starting cornerbacks Leon Hall and Nate Clements had two each and Hall only played the first 8.5 games before tearing his Achilles.
In 2010 when Allen split time with the Dolphins and Texans, he had three with each team in a season Hall led the Bengals with four. Although Allen has started just 23 games, he's played enough snaps for 15 career interceptions.
He says it's no coincidence most of the picks have come since he left Miami.
"When I got to Miami I played safety then corner then safety then back to corner," said Allen, the 16th pick in the draft out of Tennessee. "It's kind of tough when you're moving around like that. When I got to Houston I played strictly corner and then last year I basically split time with a guy and I got an opportunity with about 49, 50 percent of the snaps. The more opportunities you get, the more you can improve."
It looks like he's going to play just corner here and when the Bengals were hosting such free-agent corners as Allen, the Saints' Tracy Porter, and the Giants' Aaron Ross, it was Allen's speed and man-to-man skills that appealed to the coaches. And, of course, a Zimmer guy has to tackle and with 55 tackles as a strong safety in Miami in 2007 he has plenty of experience at it.
"I feel like my strengths are my ability to run with guys and play press," Allen said. "My goal coming in is showing the coaches I'm good enough to start."
With Hall coming back from Achilles surgery and the other starting cornerback, Nate Clements, turning 33 late this season, Allen can at least play outside in multiple receiver sets when Hall or Clements go into the slot.
In Allen, Cincinnati is also getting another community-minded player that Lewis seems to be able to attract. Allen began his J.Allen Allstars Foundation for underprivileged children in 2008 and along with conducting football camps in his native Muscle Shoals, Ala., and his new hometown of Atlanta, he participated in Thanksgiving turkey drives and Christmas toy drives last season in Houston.
"We like to do Back-to-School drives to help kids that can't afford backpacks when school starts," Allen said. "That's something I'd like to look into when I get to Cincinnati. I'd love to do some camps there. Usually what I do is reach out to the Boys and Girls clubs and the Salvation Army."
He knows a little about Cincy, too, through Joseph's scouting reports. They've known each other ever since they came out of the '06 draft together, when Joseph when eight picks later to the Bengals at No. 24.
"I don't want to speak for J-Joe, but I think he kind of left his heart in Cincinnati. He really liked it there," Allen said.
Now Allen is here ready to do the same.