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One-on-One Coverage: Bills’ Josh Allen on rookie season, off-field life, boyhood heroes

As a quarterback for a 5-10 team, Josh Allen has experienced more lows than highs since the Buffalo Bills made him the seventh overall pick of the NFL Draft in April.

The worst part was having to miss four games with a sprained elbow suffered in an Oct. 14 loss at Houston. Although it gave Allen a chance to step back and learn from watching others — mainly veterans Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley — prepare and play, he felt he was finding his groove against the Texans and wonders what might have been had he not been injured.

In the latest edition of One-on-One Coverage, the 22-year-old Allen spent some time with The Buffalo News reflecting on a rookie season that ends after Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins. He addressed a wide range of topics, including life off the field, his boyhood football heroes, relationships with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, fellow quarterbacks Barkley and Anderson, and some of his other older teammates who he had contemplated giving walkers and canes as gag gifts for Christmas.

BN: With the high-profile nature of your job often pulling you in different directions, do you ever wonder if your life is your own?

JA: My life’s my own. I've got a good group around me, most notably of my family, who I surround myself with. My agents and my marketing people do a really good job of kind of planning everything. When we do have appearances or events to go to, we try to line those up as close as they can (be to each other) and especially try to (schedule) things during the offseason. That's kind of my time when I can go do that.

During the season, it's really football and that's about it. I’ve told my agents and my marketing people, “When it’s football time, it's football time. I don't really want to be messing with anything else.” Obviously, there's some things that pop up that you have to do, but it's nothing too bad.

BN: How has your family adjusted to you being an NFL quarterback?

JA: They've adjusted well. They’ve been to almost every single home game. They love everything about Buffalo. The community kind of reminded us of Wyoming when I first got there. Because Wyoming is the only four-year institution in the state, so Laramie and everything around it is just all Wyoming Cowboys. And that's kind of the sense that we get here, it's all about the Buffalo Bills. And that's really cool.

BN: Who helps keep you grounded?

JA: Family, friends, girlfriend. Just the dynamics of how I grew up. That's kind of what really keeps me grounded, where I'm from, my community that I go back to in the offseason, Firebaugh, Calif.

I’m just like anybody else. I love hanging out with the family, watching movies, playing video games. Just a normal person.

Buffalo News: What has been your favorite part about being an NFL quarterback?

Josh Allen: The platform it gives you, you get to do a lot of good. But being an NFL quarterback, it's the only thing I've ever wanted to be. Just being able to play football at the highest level, in front of some of the most amazing fans here in Buffalo — I think they're the most amazing fans that the league has — but just to be in a city, to be a part of a community and to be playing for an historic franchise.

BN: Is there a worst part?

JA: I don't think so. I mean, I think everybody that is notable or gets noticed when they go out and when I'm out to eat with my family or girlfriend or whatever the case may be, sometimes you get people who'll come over your table while you're eating. That's the hard part for me because I'm from a small community and everybody knows everybody. That's probably the only hard part and it's super minor. But there's no privacy, for lack of a better word.

But when there’s kids, obviously, if I'm out, I want to take pictures and sign autographs for the kids because I was in their shoes at one point. There was a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. I went through the tunnel where they went from the dugout to the clubhouse, and one of the players had one of their best games in their career. There were maybe 20 kids waiting out in the hallway before him, and he comes out, doesn't even look at us, turns his head and bee lines it out.

It didn't break my heart, but I was just like, "Geez, can't even wave?” So I always make sure to wave, high-five, look, whatever the case may be, just to let them know that I recognize them, that they're there (when) I may have something else to do and I can't sign or take a picture.

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BN: How old were you then?

JA: I was maybe 10-11.

BN: Who was the pitcher?

JA: I'll keep him unnamed.

BN: You mentioned going to see the San Francisco Giants. What kind of a football fan were you?

JA: I grew up a Niner fan. I was on the West Coast, I loved the California quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, obviously whoever was in San Francisco at that time. I just loved the game of football. I remember going to church and just begging my dad, "Let's hurry up and get home so we can watch the 10 o'clock kickoff." I really wasn't fully focused on one person as much as I was the entire game.

BN: OK, but of the players you watched growing up, someone had to inspire you the most to want to be an NFL quarterback, right? Who made you say, “I want to be that guy?”

JA: Brett Favre and Tom Brady. That's who I wanted to be.

BN: What did you like the most about those guys?

JA: With Brett Favre, just the way he played, the amount of fun he had. Dude never missed any games. Any time the Packers’ games were on, he was playing. He was never out of a game, so you got to see him every given week. And then, obviously, Tom Brady with the success that he had at that time period when I was a young kid, loving the game of football, getting to see what he was doing.

When Brett Favre left and he went to Minnesota? That killed me for awhile. I was like, “I can’t be a fan anymore.” I couldn’t believe he did that. I understand why he did it now, but at the time, I was pretty disappointed. Still, that's the one guy who I wanted to be. He was just kind of an outgoing person. His teammates seemed to love him. His coaches seemed to love him.

He was never really disappointed. Obviously, you're going to be disappointed with games, but talking to the media and stuff, he was never down and out. He always thought he had a chance. That's really what I loved most about him.

BN: What else, besides his success and California roots, drew you to Brady?

JA: He's very performance-based. His life revolves around the game of football. And that's where I looked at him and I was like, "I want to be like that." At the same time, I want to put my own flair on it. I want to be a fun guy who loves playing the game of football and everybody enjoys playing with me.

BN: What’s the greatest learning experience you've had so far?

JA: After the Houston game, when I got to sit — or stand — and watch Derek and Matt. They showed me what it was like to be a professional football player, a professional quarterback — to come in, do things the right way, how they watched film, how they prepared for games, how they approached walk-throughs at practice and then how they prepared on game day, something that I hadn't seen before. They've been in the league for a combined 16-17 years, so they have a lot of experience. For me to see that, that was huge.

ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS G GS Rec. Comp.-Att. Comp.% Yds Yds/G TD Int Sk Atts Yds Yds/G TD
Josh Allen, Bills 11 10 4-6 152-294 51.7 1,850 168.2 7 11 27 80 536 48.7 6
Baker Mayfield, Browns 13 12 6-6 287-444 64.6 3,349 257.6 24 11 25 39 131 10.1 0
Sam Darnold, Jets 12 12 4-8 223-386 57.8 2,698 224.8 17 15 26 43 110 9.2 1
Josh Rosen, Cardinals 13 12 3-9 199-359 55.4 2,129 163.8 10 14 39 23 138 10.6 0
Lamar Jackson, Ravens 15 6 5-1 85-146 58.2 1,022 68.1 6 4 14 127 605 40.3 3

BN: How soon after suffering that elbow injury against the Texans did you realize you were going to be shut down for awhile?

JA: When I went off to the sideline. I tried to throw the next play and it didn't work out for me. That pain ... every thrower will tell you pain in the elbow sucks. It's the worst type of feeling, mentally, that you can have. It sucked, too, because that Houston game, I kind of started feeling things were slowing down. I was seeing things a little better, making better decisions and then the injury happens and I get to sit out for a while and learn from Matt and learn from Derek. I'm continuing to learn from them and it's still an ongoing process.

BN: How long did it take you to get over the disappointment and frustration of knowing you were going to be out of action?

JA: It was good a day after it. I was like, “Alright, I'm going to sit back. I don't expect to be out for more than a game.” We were playing the Patriots on Monday night in two weeks, so I was like, “I'm going to be back for that game.” I kept telling myself that.

As the game got closer and closer, I was like, “I'm really going to miss this game. It is what it is. I get to play the Patriots two times a year for, hopefully, the rest of my career. So I kind of put that in the back of my mind, let it go and I was good until I got back on the field and was able to show what I had learned.

BN: At 22, how hard is it to wrap your mind around the fact that you've got a teammate, Lorenzo Alexander, with a daughter who is almost your age?

JA: It's weird. We go over there for Bible study every other Thursday, and his daughter, Vanessa, was there (last week). And it's kind of mind boggling just knowing I'm closer in age to his kids than I am to him. It's kind of funny. I give him a few jabs about it.

BN: What kind of jabs?

JA: Every old-man joke you can think of.

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BN: How amazed are you by Lorenzo’s performance at age 35?

JA: He’s playing at an extremely high level. For him to do what he's doing ... the trajectory of his career has been up and down and sideways, 360, whatever you want to say. He's seen it all, position changes.

You look at a professional football player, he's the epitome of it. How he handles himself, the things he does for the community, his foundation, how he is with his family, how good of a dad he is. That's one guy you can look at and say, “I can model myself after him and I'd be perfect in life.” I mean, he's just one of those guys you look at (in) amazement, just the things that he does and continues to do are pretty spectacular.

BN: Is it at all awkward to being as young as you are and taking on the natural leadership role that goes with your position?

JA: I don't think so. I don’t feel it, at least. You know, we're all teammates. How long you've been in the league, I don't think that really matters. We’ve got one common goal and that's to win football games and however I can help to win football games is what I'm going to do. I think everybody kind of respects that and they see the type of person I am, how I play the game. I play with a lot of passion and I think that the guys really enjoy that.

BN: Have you ever had to assert yourself just to remind everyone else in the huddle that you’re in charge?

JA: No. For the most part we understand when I get in the huddle, when any quarterback gets in the huddle, it’s the quarterback’s time to talk. But I'm not the guy that's (swearing at) people or putting people down. I’m like, “Let's go do this. Let's go get this job done.”

BN: Questions about your accuracy have followed you from college and are still a major part of the conversation about you. What’s your take on it?

JA: Obviously, I mean, I want to complete the ball every time I step back and throw it, and that’s just not possible. There's a lot of different things that go into completion percentage and what people want to see. There's throwaways, there's decision-making, there's drops, there's how far you push the ball downfield, types of throws that you made.

And I don't think (completion percentage is) the best metric to gauge accuracy. I really don't think that plays a huge part into how a quarterback should be evaluated. But at same time, I want to complete the ball at a higher rate, I do. I want to put the ball in our playmakers’ hands and let them make plays.

BN: Is it fair to say that the specific work you did on your throwing mechanics before the draft with your quarterback guru, Jordan Palmer, and the work you did early on with the Bills’ coaches has dissipated during the season and you’ll pick it up again in the offseason?

JA: Yeah, yeah. There's always something to improve on. I’ll be taking a little time after the season, let the body kind of recover, and then in February I’ll get back to it, working on the fundamentals of just throwing and getting back to getting your arm loosened and start to make a schedule and a regimen and kind of living by it.

BN: What’s your relationship like with Brian Daboll?

JA: Love him. I mean, he’s awesome. Just the knowledge that he brings to the game. We're extremely close. He’s not a coach you can't talk to. I can talk to him about anything, football, non-football. He cares about his players and cares about the quarterback room. I have a lot respect and a lot of love for Dabes. I think he's doing a terrific job.

BN: How about your relationships with Barkley and Anderson?

JA: We've had a really good relationship. It’s a really good quarterback room. We know the task at hand. That's a room that just wants to win football games. They're helping me out. I owe a lot of credit to them, how they've helped me already and and how they're going to continue to help.

BN: What’s a specific example of how you’ve been helped?

JA: Just the presence when we watch film, Derek seeing different looks than I have. He’ll kind of tell me, “If they’re an ‘over’ team and that three tech’s misplaced, they’re bringing pressure here.” Just certain situations like that in film (study), where he just gives me kind of like these tidbits that I’m like, “I didn't even know that.” I’m still learning the game of football, and they're still helping me.

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