From Quarantine To Contract For Brandon Allen

Brandon Allen is back as a backup.
Brandon Allen is back as a backup.

The contract Brandon Allen signed this week may even come with a space in the main locker room after he appeared to cap his rise from Bengals quarantine quarterback to primary back-up quarterback during Joe Burrow's rehab. Allen won't go that far, but it certainly looks to be a promotion.

"I definitely don't want to be the COVID-stand-in-the-back-watch guy anymore," Allen said from Fayetteville, Ark., after he signed the one-year deal.

Allen emerged from the backbench last season in the wake of Burrow's injury to start five games with a headlock on head coach Zac Taylor's offense. After outdueling Deshaun Watson with 371 yards while completing 78 percent of his passes in Houston, it was believed Allen became the first Bengals quarterback to complete 69.4 percent of his passes in his first four starts while hitting better than 70 percent twice.

If that didn't cement his job as the No. 2, head coach Zac Taylor seemed to when he went back to him the week after Ryan Finley beat the Steelers as Allen sat out with a bruised knee.

"Obviously Ryan played a great game against Pittsburgh and that was a big win for us to get," Allen said. "But I think Zac and the coaching staff just had a lot of confidence in me the next week and their confidence in me gave me the confidence to play well. I'm going into this season trying to be the 2. With Joe coming back from injury, you have to be ready for anything. You never know what can happen.

"I think there's a battle everywhere you go. They're not going to give you a position. I'm going to work to be the two and work to establish myself as the back-up there."

Allen has already passed one of the weirdest litmus tests of all-time.

When he signed on the eve of last season's chaotic training camp, Taylor assigned him the role of quarantine quarterback and kept him away from Burrow, Finley and everyone else during practice. That included quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher and the top wide receivers.

When he did interact with Pitcher in-person, it was throwing to him and a scattering of back-up receivers after practice.

"I just had to do everything with my eyes," Allen said.

Allen, a coach's son working on his fourth team in five years, had already seen plenty. When he got the call on Nov. 25 to step into practice with the first unit, he didn't miss a pass. 

"He came in here with a high degree of comfort with the terminology," Pitcher said last season. "It's a big part of why, without virtually any real reps in the first half of the year and then all of a sudden he's playing in a real game, he's had some success."

Allen's familiarity with Taylor's system is why he's here. The two worked together with the Rams and Allen made three starts in 2019 in a similar scheme in Denver.

"It's definitely quarterback friendly," Allen said. "Zac's got a really good feel for it. Especially if you can get some run game going, the play-action game does a lot for you moving the ball down the field. I think he does a great job adapting to Joe's skills.

"Joe's very comfortable in empty formations. We did a lot of empty formations and gave defenses some trouble with shorter passes that kind of opened up the run game. There's a lot to it and you can move guys anywhere you want to, really, and it's tough for defenses to go up against it."

Allen famously took Taylor's call to come to training camp while his wife Sarah was in the process of delivering a son. Oakland arrived as his dad made plans to leave and while signing a one-year deal in March isn't exactly giving birth, it's nice after not having a job all last offseason.

And he can actually have a camp with his receivers. He can maybe even be around his teammates other than a Zoom call. Last season he dressed in the locker room reserved for women officials, where his locker mate was injured tight end C.J. Uzomah.

"I think everyone is going to be better," Allen said. "I'd love to get back to the normal way of playing. It will be great for everyone.

"We did what we could with the Zoom calls and they did a good job with that, but it's just not the same when you're not around the guys or the coaches."

Allen obviously knew Burrow was a great quarterback before he arrived, but what surprised him when he showed up here was his command of the game. "Football IQ is off the charts," Allen says, and he thinks the rest of the offense can follow.

"We just have to put it together each and every week," Allen said. "I think you saw glimpses throughout the year what the offense could look like when it's rolling. Last year was tough with lot of injuries that we had to overcome. I think once we get healthy and we can click, and obviously, another year in the system is going to do everyone a lot of good. Once we get that growing it can be a very good offense."

The big locker room is also probably getting ready to open its doors for him, too.

"That would be nice," he said.

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