KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The hulking 6-3, 290-pound defender won’t command the spotlight like some of his high-profile defensive teammates.
But Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey has blossomed from a backup role the previous three seasons to become an every-down starter.
The Chiefs’ appreciation of Bailey’s value is evidenced through five games where he has totaled 260 defensive snaps, 14 less than Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe’s 274 snaps.
“I think Allen has had a really good year and he made a big jump a year ago I thought in football and knowing what’s going on,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s obviously a very gifted guy athletically.”
Poe agreed with Sutton’s last point.
“He’s a beast,” Poe said of Bailey. “He’s smart. He doesn’t look his size, he’s strong, fast, so everything you can pretty much say positive about him, he has it.”
Of course, Bailey is a late bloomer entering his fourth season as he adjusted from a 4-3 defensive scheme he played while attending the University of Miami.
The Chiefs selected Bailey as the second of two third-round picks (86th overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he admitted the transition wasn’t easy.
“My first year was rough because we came off the lockout,” Bailey said. “So being thrown in there and learning fast, it took me at least a good year and a half just to get comfortable with the 3-4 scheme.”
There is little doubt Bailey has settled in since taking over at defensive end for Tyson Jackson, who signed a free-agent deal in March with the Atlanta Falcons.
“Playing in a 4-3 in college and switching to a 3-4 and two-gapping that’s a big difference,” two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Justin Houston said. “Now he’s comfortable what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s just playing without even thinking.”
Bailey agreed, adding familiarity with what the Chiefs expect of him in Sutton’s scheme allows him to play with confidence.
“The defense in the second year around everything is a lot faster,” he said. “You know a lot more; you’re more comfortable in the defense. That makes a whole lot of difference.”
The 25-year-old Bailey has filled the void of Jackson’s departure, and he currently has nine tackles (six solo) and a career-high 2 ½ sacks with two quarterback hurries.
Bailey’s disruptive play against opposing offenses further enhances the production of Poe and Houston, the two players Bailey is sandwiched between.
“We help each other as much as we can,” Poe said. “Whatever one-on-one I get, I try to win. Whatever one-on-one they get, they try to win. So you can’t double everybody.”
The thought of getting to the quarterback or making a play in the backfield produced a twinkle in Bailey’s eyes.
“It’s fun,” he said with a big smile. “We all like competing at the same time, like who gets back there first. We have great guys out there. I mean, you have Dontari, you got Houston, you got (outside linebacker) Tamba (Hali), so it’s always competition.”
Bailey said he committed himself during the offseason to improve against the run and pass, which included packing on 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-3 frame.
And doing so allowed the Chiefs to keep Bailey on the field instead of making him a situational player.
“When the starting role opportunity presented itself,” Bailey said, “I seized the moment and it went from there. I’ve just been working on that.”
Sutton points out Bailey’s stamina and ability to pair inside with Poe to chase down screen plays and wide plays are beneficial to the defense.
“He’s a really – I think – an exciting guy from our perspective,” Sutton said. “The arrow is up. I think he can take off, got really good athleticism.”
Meanwhile, Bailey’s dedication throughout organized team activities (OTAs) and training camp proved hard to ignore among teammates.
“I feel like he was always a physical monster,” Poe said. “But he put it on his shoulders this year when we came in for OTAs to be better to help the team and just to do what he can.”
Bailey’s work ethic and every-down performances drew admiration from Houston, who typically lines up on Bailey’s immediate left.
“He’s a freak of nature,” Houston said. “You see a guy that big with muscles like that, can move the way he moves, I think that’s a freak of nature. He plays great against the run and the pass, so he’s dominant in both.”
Bailey, who enters the final year of his contract, also has coach Andy Reid’s attention.
Reid complimented Bailey’s consistency this season as the defensive end has grown within the defensive system.
“He’s had to do this play after play,” Reid said, “game after game. It’s a tough position he plays. You’ve got to endure the whole physical part of it and the mental part. To this point, he’s done a pretty good job of that.”
For his part, Bailey said he was unaware of the laudatory comments from the coaching staff, as he prefers to remain focused on his role and working with teammates.
But he certainly appreciated the kind words.
“Any vote of confidence adds to your own confidence,” Bailey said. “When you hear it from your peers, it adds even more. You focus on the job because you’ve worked with these guys since April working hard, so you know all the work you put in together is paying off.”