The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jonathan Allen just doesn’t stop

Washington’s Jonathan Allen leads Washington with 6.5 sacks and ranks fourth among all defensive linemen in the NFL with 23 quarterback hits. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Terry McLaurin paused to ponder the question. In a locker room with close to 70 NFL players, plucking out the most competitive of the bunch requires thought.

“I’d say I’m up there,” McLaurin, the Washington Football Team’s leading receiver, admitted. “But probably Jon Allen. Jon Allen is pretty competitive in every single thing. . . . He always has some type of back-and-forth with somebody on the D-line, or talking about Alabama. Like, you’ve been long gone from Alabama, and you’re ready to fight because people think Georgia was going to win.”

The example elicited some laughs, but not because it was difficult to imagine.

Jonathan Allen, Washington’s veteran defensive tackle, is a 6-foot-3, 300-pound hulk who once said he hates losing more than he likes winning.

“I’m tired of losing. We’re tired of losing. Everybody here is tired of losing,” he said last year. “We want to win, and if it’s not about winning, I really don’t care about it.”

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But after four years of being a staple on the defensive line and its hard-nosed leader, Allen, 26, has evolved into even more in his fifth season: a game-wrecker and a cornerstone of Washington’s rebuilding franchise.

Through 12 games, Allen leads Washington with 6.5 sacks and ranks fourth among all defensive linemen with 23 quarterback hits. He has the strength to toss around guards (Matt Feiler of the Los Angeles Chargers learned that in Week 1), the speed to whip around tackles and the power to bulldoze centers, posing perhaps the greatest threat on Washington’s vaunted defensive line. After an offseason in which he tweaked his training and diet, Allen believes he’s playing the best football of his career, and the numbers agree.

“When I look at my film last year, I would see times where I would be playing really well and times where I was just blending in and being another guy,” he said in a recent interview with The Post. “So I’m consistently making more of an impact than I was last year.”

Without providing too much detail, Allen said his offseason was centered on consistency. Already demanding in his approach, Allen said he became even more strict with his diet, his sleep habits and his recovery methods. He has his own Game Ready ice machine at his home in Northern Virginia. He owns a Normatec leg recovery system, with inflatable boots for compression, too. He also has a Peloton bike to help maintain conditioning. (“It’s horrible,” he conceded.)

“One thing [former tight end] Vernon Davis said is, ‘If you train the way you do during the season in the offseason, that’s how you have longevity,’ ” Allen said. “I really think it’s been working out for me. . . . You can never get complacent in the league.”

Complacency has never appeared to be an issue for Allen, whose father is a retired Army sergeant first class and whose brother still serves as an Army sergeant first class.

But Allen says his enhanced preparation has given him more confidence on the field. His comfort in Year 2 of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s system has helped as well, along with his experience in picking up on run-pass keys — products, he says, of experience and studying.

“What Jon does great is Jon pushes the pocket at a very high level,” fellow Washington defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis said. “He’s constantly moving his feet toward the quarterback; he doesn’t waste a lot of time, waste a lot of steps. He’s very detailed in that aspect.”

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Over the past two seasons, as Coach Ron Rivera has sought to rebuild Washington’s roster and Del Rio has guided the defense, most attention has been paid to Washington’s edge-rushing duo of Chase Young and Montez Sweat, first-round picks who sparked the defense in 2020 and appeared poised for a dominant run in 2021.

Although both are out because of health issues, the greatest impact throughout the season has been created in the interior of Washington’s line, with Allen and defensive tackle Daron Payne.

“They keep a lot of stuff off of us, a lot of stuff from coming to hit us,” Young said of the interior linemen during training camp. “We’ll be running around the edge, the quarterback right there because he can’t step up because of them. They’re like that.”

Rivera has praised the improvement of Allen’s game, most notably his hump move, in which he leverages his outside arm under the armpit of a blocker to essentially toss him to the side.

The late Reggie White mastered the hump move, but in Washington’s Week 10 win over Tampa Bay, Allen displayed his own version. On a third down in the first quarter, Allen got under and around guard Ali Marpet to make a beeline toward quarterback Tom Brady, flattening him just after he released an incomplete pass.

“He’s physical at the point of attack, more so than anything else,” Rivera said of Allen. “You get a lot of guys that stutter and float looking for an opportunity. Jonathan just goes forward. The quickest route to the quarterback is straight ahead, and when he’s doing that, he’s having success.”

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Allen’s success through his first four seasons in Washington landed him a new contract: a four-year, $72 million deal he signed just before the start of training camp in late July.

“It’s hard for me to be all-in on a team but also be negotiating against them,” he said. “That was hard for me to do. So I’m glad we were able to get it done before the season so I could just be all-in.”

But his reasons were multifaceted. Allen’s intensity on the field is matched with a devotion to helping children and families in need in the local area.

On Tuesday, he was named Washington’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for the second consecutive season, an honor that comes with a $40,000 charitable donation and the possibility of earning another $250,000, should he win the leaguewide award in February ahead of Super Bowl LVI.

Allen and his wife, Hannah, pledged to donate $3 million to organizations in the D.C. metro area over the course of his career in Washington. Among the benefactors will be Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a D.C. organization that provides shelter to homeless youth and works to create family stability.

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“When I first got the contract, it was truly a blessing,” Allen said. “I just knew I was going to be able to, first and foremost, take care of my family for the rest of our lives. God definitely blessed me with this, so I wanted to give it back to the community and first show my appreciation and thankfulness to God for giving me the opportunity to even do that, but really just help the people that are affected most in the area.”

Allen, who was briefly a foster child, and Hannah have worked with Sasha Bruce for more than two years, raising funds, providing resources for programs and shelters and spending time with children and families. Tuesday evening, they arrived at Sasha Bruce House with gift bags and presents for the children staying there.

And for a couple of hours, the typically austere and competitive lineman let loose and transformed into a kid himself, easily relating through video games and painting.

“When you go there and hang out with the kids and start to develop a relationship with them, even as they go on, thanks to social media, I’m still able to stay in contact with a lot of them,” he said. “I had one come to the Seahawks game. I have a couple more coming this week. I think that’s what makes it worthwhile and what makes it cool.”

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