ASHBURN, Va. — The prized rookie trotted out onto the field for snaps with the third unit, a group no one expects Jonathan Allen to stick with. Not after the Washington Redskins, who considered him the second-best player in the draft, selected him 17th overall.
But they want to take it slow with the defensive lineman. So his early reps during the spring workouts came with the No. 3 defense. The key for Allen will be getting ready to start the season, not the group he works with in May. Redskins safety Will Blackmon said on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show that Allen has a “Reggie White energy about him. The new secretary of the defense.” Blackmon was referring to Allen’s energy — there’s a calmness to it — and not skill set. But the point is that Allen enters with a veteran-type presence.
For now, though, it’s just about developing. The Redskins are in shorts and helmets and two months from the opening of training camp. It’s a time to teach and learn.
“These rookies, we’re trying to just get them baby steps. We don’t want to just throw them out in the fire,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
The Redskins worked various line groups ahead of Allen. Joey Mbu, for example, worked as the No. 1 nose tackle along with ends Ziggy Hood and Anthony Lanier. They will continue to rotate at this spot. For now, it doesn’t matter who lines up with which group.
But it’s good for developing players such as Lanier to face the first-team offensive line. For example, with Trent Williams working out in Houston, Lanier faced Ty Nsekhe, a quality backup capable of starting. On one play, Lanier showed excellent leverage and strength in moving him back. His development will help the line. The same is true of second-year player Matt Ioannidis, who took snaps with the first defense at times as well.
And what the Redskins want Allen to do now is simply develop. The Redskins paired a younger line with a proven veteran coach in Jim Tomsula. Allen said he’s noticed already what a technician Tomsula is; he’ll ask players to repeat a drill if they don’t do it right, as he did a few times with Allen both in the rookie minicamp and in organized team activities. They want Allen to stay lower more consistently and focus on placing his hands in the right spots.
“There’s a lot for me to learn, a lot I don’t know,” Allen said. “Just focus on what I can control and that’s learning as much as I can.”
Allen said the entire group has helped him out, but singled out players Hood, Mbu, Lanier and Phil Taylor in particular. There’s little doubt that when the season begins, Allen must be in a position to help. Considering his talent, he should win a starting job. They’ve worked him at both end spots and would play him as a tackle in their nickel packages.
But first things first: They want him to walk before he runs.
“He’s going to progress at a fast rate,” Gruden said. “You can see the talent that he has. He’s just going to get better and better. Let’s get his feet wet a little bit, and then we’ll throw him in there. But he’s doing a great job.”