After a chat with old Falcons captain and safety Ricardo Allen as he signed his one-year deal Monday at Paul Brown Stadium, you swore you could have been talking to Chris Crocker, circa 2008.
It will be recalled that Crocker, a former Falcons safety, arrived in an emerging Bengals defense all those years ago at the behest of a defensive coordinator named Mike Zimmer whom respected his game from their time together and ended up watching him revive his career while providing leadership for his teammates in a secondary he could line up anywhere.
"I would love to share my knowledge. That's who I am. That's what I bring with me," said Allen as he prepares to re-unite with Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo for the first time in the pros. "I want to be an offensive coordinator because I know all the things that keep me up at night."
Allen, 29, became a Falcons folk hero during his 77-game career in Atlanta. A former 2014 fifth-round pick, he went from practice squad cornerback to starting Super Bowl safety and a 'C,' on the jersey earning a three-year, $19 million extension.
"You can tell just from talking to him for a couple of minutes he's going to have a command in the locker room," said Steven Radicevic, the Bengals director of pro scouting. "Guys are going to respect him. I think he'll be a good piece for us for sure."
Radicevic point-guarded the effort that brought the Bengals four veteran defensive backs out of their seven signees in a haul that over the cap.com put in the league's top 10 for total money committed and first-year cash layouts during this free-agency period.
The Bengals reacted to the market when the edge rushers and top guard broke the bank in the early action. They were looking for quantity as well as quality and took home one of the top sackers (Trey Hendrickson) and top tackles (Riley Reiff), not to mention one of the starting cornerbacks Radicevic had high on his list early as incumbent William Jackson III went on the market.
He liked how solid Dallas' Chidobe Awuzie worked and thought the price would be just as solid and it turned out they were able to sign both Awuzie and the best slot cornerback on the market, Mike Hilton, for a combined $13.2 million per year compared to the $13.5 per Washington gave Jackson, according to overthecap.com.
"We filled a lot of holes in free agency and hopefully it sets us up to take the best players in the draft," Radicevic said. "We needed numbers (at cornerback) and we were able to get two guys that are solid starters. And a guy like Ricardo has versatility to him back there."
Allen is an example of the class of player the Bengals sensed would be on the market this year with the first reduced salary cap in history. An accomplished, experienced yet still fairly young player with 76 NFL starts who became a salary cap casualty.
With strong safety Vonn Bell and free safety Jessie Bates III already giving the Bengals one of the best tandems in the league, Allen is looking to show off that diversity as the third safety. He broke into the league as a nickel cornerback and at 5-9, 186 pounds, he couldn't get on the active roster for then head coach Mike Smith as a rookie in 2014.
But when Dan Quinn came from Seattle to take over for Smith the next season, Allen's film study of Seahawks safety Earl Thomas paid off. Quinn started him at free safety in the opener and Allen re-paid him with a clinching interception in the opener.
Allen started the next 44 games in a run that included the crushing Super Bowl loss to the Patriots before he blew out his Achilles in the third game of the 2018 season. He came back to start the next 28 games, but when Quinn was dispatched after this season, change had come.
"I can play nickel, I can play free, I can play strong," said Allen, who played in some three-safety looks in Atlanta. "I can be physical and tussle with the big boys and you can move Vonn somewhere else. Or, whatever the team needs me to do. I don't have an ego. I'm not fighting with guys over the depth chart. That's not my decision. That's not their decision. That's the coach's decision."
When he surfaced at PBS in what turned out to be one of the shrewdest pickups in Bengals history, Crocker, a former third-round pick, was 28 and had been cut by the Dolphins after playing his 80th game, three more than Allen. Crocker had worked with Zimmer the year before in Atlanta, but both were victims of the Bobby Petrino shakeup and on the move that offseason. By the time Zimmer got a head coaching job five years later, he and Crocker were part of four post-season Bengals defenses.
Like Crocker, a coach is Allen's main connection to this defense. Anarumo goes all the way back to Allen's living room in Daytona Beach, Fla., when he was recruiting him to Purdue. Anarumo, the Boilermakers' long-time secondary coach, made just the right pitch.
By the time Anarumo left West Lafayette, Ind., to coach in the NFL after Allen's sophomore year, he watched Allen line up at cornerback for three pick-sixes, including back-to-back games he robbed Denard Robinson and Kirk Cousins.
"Lou had a big influence on me. He took me under his wing early," Allen said. "I've played every position (in the secondary) and I think he understands how smart I am. He always saw my mom when he was recruiting me and knows the family. I know Lou's kids and his wife. I want to be a part of having a community and being able to help the team win."
Allen insists he'll produce in any role he's given and he's got 11 career interceptions to show for it. Combine that with Hilton's seven and those 18 picks are three more than the Bengals cornerbacks have accounted for in the last four seasons.
"I just like to play ball," Allen said.
And he likes the way Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow plays ball. It's one of the reasons he's here.
"You saw he had these guys in position to win games last year," Allen said.
"I had Matt Ryan my whole life," he said of the Falcons perennial Pro Bowler. "A great professional quarterback who can play ball. Burrow, I feel, is a top caliber player like Matt Ryan. I think he can get there. I watched him at LSU. His dad has a coaching background. You can see that. He has a great foundation as a person, a player and a human being in general. Then you see some of the passes and the stuff that he does, why wouldn't you want to play with him?"
The new guy has view from a captain's deck.
"I feel like I can be a piece that help blends everybody together," Allen said. "And help out as much as I can."