It was only two seasons ago that Buck Allen looked like the Ravens' long-term answer as a third-down back. The 2015 fourth-round pick caught 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns and added 514 rushing yards and a touchdown in 16 games as a rookie.
He had good hands, a knack for making himself available to the quarterback, and elusiveness in the open field. Those qualities weren't as evident last season, when Allen saw action on offense in just eight of 16 games and was inactive for the final five contests.
With veteran running back Danny Woodhead now out for at least the next eight games because of a hamstring injury, the Ravens are counting on Allen to reprise his role from his rookie season.
"Buck has really good skills in the pass game and protection, too," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday. "Buck is definitely going to step up and get an opportunity. It's his role. It's his role to fill. I'm looking forward to seeing how he does."
In the Ravens' season-opening 20-0 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals, Allen had a team-high 21 carries for 71 yards. That he touched the ball nine more times than he did all of last season was a nice reward for Allen, who had an uncertain future with the organization after a disappointing 2016 campaign (nine carries for 34 yards and three catches for 15 yards).
In the team's various minicamps, Allen was fourth on the running back depth chart, behind Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson University), Kenneth Dixon and Woodhead. Dixon and Woodhead are both now on injured reserve, leaving West, Allen, and the recently acquired and promoted Jeremy Langford as the only backs on the 53-man roster.
"I put in a lot of work in the offseason. It's great to go out there and be able to showcase it. That's only the beginning," Allen, who started six games as a rookie and had 182 touches and 867 all-purpose yards in 2015, said Friday.
"Me personally, I expected that. It wasn't a big shocker to me. Do I think I could've done better, left some yards out there? Always. I'm always my hardest critic. It was great to be out there. It was great to finally touch the ball, make plays, and be a playmaker and step up and be that guy."
While relishing his new increased role behind West, Allen spoke of how much the Ravens and the other backs would miss Woodhead, who aggravated a hamstring injury on the team's first offensive drive of the season.
Allen said Woodhead has taught him a lot about being patient and the intricacies of route running since the veteran joined the team this offseason. Allen marveled at the mismatches Woodhead created against linebackers.
Now it's up to Allen to show just how much he's learned.
"It's another opportunity to show that our room is still capable of filling Danny's role," Allen said. "Either one of us, me or Terrance, can take over that role. I'm very confident in that and try not to miss a [beat]. We put in the work and push each other, make sure each other is doing the right thing. If [one] guy goes down, [the other] can do that job."