By Dave Thomas
CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.
Keenan Allen – WR – #13
Height: 6′ 2″
Weight: 211 pounds
Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.
Experience: 2 years
When Vincent Jackson left a couple of years back and took his talents to greener pastures (to the tune of some $55 million) in Tampa Bay, many fans of the San Diego Chargers likely wondered just who quarterback Philip Rivers would go to when directing the Bolts down the field via the passing game.
If before the 2013 season you would tell Bolt fans that Cal rookie Keenan Allen would become the “go-to” guy for much of last season, many may have scratched their heads a time or two. When all was said and done last season, Allen emerged not only as the Chargers’ top threat, but also as one of the top wide receiver stories around the NFL.
As the books were closed on the 2013 regular season, the former Golden Bear tallied the following: 71 receptions, 1,046 yards receiving, eight touchdowns. Not too bad for a rookie, yes?
While the Chargers would go on to lose 24-17 to rival Denver in week two of the January AFC playoffs, Allen left his mark on the game, finishing with six catches for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Again, not too bad for a first-year guy.
During the 2013 regular season, Allen had five games where he went over 100 yards, with his top performance being 128 yards receiving in an overtime loss at Washington. In less than a week’s span (Sunday win at home over the Giants and a Thursday night victory in Denver), Allen accounted for four touchdowns through the air.
What Does He Do for an Encore in 2014?
As all too many NFL players have discovered over time, the second season in the league can be a challenging one.
Most notably, opposing defenses have had more than enough time to scour over tape of the receivers, running backs and quarterbacks they must shut down in order to increase their chances of winning. You can bet that defensive coaches in Denver, Kansas City and Oakland, along with the other opponents San Diego will face this time around, know exactly who number 13 is. Not to take anything away from one Keenan Allen, but he certainly will not sneak up on any opposing secondaries in 2014.
With the Chargers reaching the playoffs last season for the first time in four years, the expectations have been turned up for 2014.
Although no one will go on record and say the AFC West is the Chargers’ to win, they certainly are more than capable of doing just that this season. While both Denver and Kansas City will have a say in that (let’s not put Oakland in that category just yet), San Diego is certainly good enough when playing its “A game” of not only beating Denver and Kansas City twice during the season, but also any of its opponents.
That said, this is also a Chargers unit that in recent years has at times played down to the level of its competition.
One only has to look at last year’s results to see losses to Houston, Tennessee, Washington, Miami and once to the Raiders, to see what derailed the 2013 team from being a stellar team to more of a just better than average squad.
So, how can Allen prove the difference in some games this fall where it just takes a play or two to swing the momentum over to San Diego?
For starters, he’s going to need to make sure he’s healthy once again for all 16 games and hopefully extended play in the post-season. One of Allen’s biggest contributions in 2013 was staying injury-free. Given question marks with the health of guys such as Malcom Floyd at the wide receiver position for 2014, the Chargers know that Allen must play each and every game.
After leading all rookies in pass receptions in 2013, the sky is the limit this season for one Keenan Allen.
Rest assured, however, that opposing defenses will be keeping a closer eye on number 13 this time around.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.