CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It’s easy to overlook Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Kyle Allen because he wasn’t invited to a college all-star game, went undrafted and was cut from the practice squad before making the 53-man roster when Cam Newton was shut down for the final two games of last season.
It’s easy to overlook Allen’s Week 17 win against New Orleans because the Saints rested their starters, having already wrapped up the NFC South title.
It’s easy to overlook Allen this week as he works with the first team in the likelihood a left foot sprain will keep Newton out of Sunday’s game against the Cardinals in Arizona, where Allen grew up, and against the top pick of the draft -- a fellow QB whose presence played a role in Allen's college career that showed promise but never took off.
Jordan Palmer gets why Allen is under the radar.
“I totally understand how the media and the fans could arrive at that,” said Palmer, a former NFL quarterback who works with Allen during the offseason at QB Summit, a private coaching company that develops quarterbacks. “There’s so much information out there nowadays, you feel if you don’t know a lot about somebody, they’re probably not that good.
“I do know Kyle. I’ve been paying attention since high school, and I’ve had a lot of conviction on him for a long time. So I’m not surprised at all he’s in this position, and I’m not going to be surprised at all when he plays really, really well and this offense really starts clicking.”
That’s a bold prediction, as Allen completed only 52.9% of his passes and had no touchdown passes in four preseason games.
Palmer has worked with Allen since he was at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale. He has seen enough to believe that when surrounded by the first-team line and do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey -- neither was at his disposal most of the preseason -- the offense will be as explosive as Allen promised it would be coming out of training camp.
“He’s going to go through his progressions, and he’s going to throw and anticipate your timing; and the moment is not going to be too big for him, and he’s going to play really composed, good, execution football,” said Palmer, the younger brother of former three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer.
Kyle vs. Kyler
Allen was at home in Scottsdale last fall, trying to figure out his future. He had been cut from the Carolina practice squad on Sept. 10, with Newton playing well and Taylor Heinicke the backup.
Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray was on his way to claiming the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, ultimately becoming the first pick of the 2019 draft.
Three years earlier, Allen and Murray were teammates at Texas A&M.
In 2015, Allen and the Aggies started 5-0. He led the SEC in passing efficiency. Then came a three-interception game against Alabama. A week later, he struggled in a loss to Ole Miss, and coach Kevin Sumlin named Murray the starter.
Allen, demoted to the third team, announced that December he was transferring. A month later, he committed to the University of Houston to play for Tom Herman but would have to sit out a season under NCAA rules.
Herman left for Texas before the 2017 season, and Allen was benched in his third game after throwing two interceptions, giving him four picks in three games.
After the season, Allen entered the NFL draft, foregoing his senior season.
“He got benched for two different schools for players who at the time weren’t as good as him, in my opinion,” Palmer said. “Two completely different situations he got the short end of the stick, and he always handled himself the right way; he always took ownership and took on blame.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera consistently has said one of Allen’s strengths is that he never gets rattled under pressure.
It’s why Rivera picked Allen to be Newton’s backup over 2019 third-round pick Will Grier, the first quarterback the Panthers have drafted since making Newton the top pick in 2011.
It’s why the coach feels good if Allen has to face Murray, who last week became the second rookie in league history to pass for more than 300 yards in his first two games.
Newton was the first, throwing for 422 yards in his debut against Arizona nine years ago and 432 a week later against the Green Bay Packers.
“Kyle is more than ready,” Rivera said. “Kyle did some really good things last year, showed us what he’s capable of. He knows the offense. So we feel confident about him.”
Teammates say Allen can do many of the same things Newton does -- including run -- something that has been missing through the opening two games of the campaign.
“If you close your eyes, he’ll run the ball on you,” Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright said.
Wright also said Allen is a natural leader who takes control of the huddle.
“His confidence kind of leaks off him,” Wright said.
Allen stood at his locker on Tuesday wearing headphones like blinders as reporters circled. The public relations staff wanted to give him a day or so to focus on the game plan before subjecting him to questions.
In keeping with that, Palmer expects Allen will forgo trips to visit his old stomping grounds when he arrives in Arizona.
“I’m sure he’s going to meet his parents in the lobby and go study,” he said. “He’s going to try to go 1-0, and he’s not going to worry about anything other than executing and going one series at a time and playing good football.”
That’s what Allen does best.
“A person in my position can never have stability,” Allen said near the end of camp. “For me, it’s about always competing, always bringing your best every day and trying to be as consistent as possible so you have that trust in yourself and your teammates have that trust in you.”
Having the victory against New Orleans last year gave Allen the confidence to be ready for this moment.
“It was huge,” he said. “Coming out as an undrafted rookie, I could have never played another game in my life. So being able to play that last game and get us a win, it was obviously a confidence boost going into the offseason, trying to carry it over.”
It’s easy to overlook Allen if you don’t know these things about him, if you don’t understand he has the same drive and desire to win that Murray, Newton and other high draft picks do.
“I always felt Kyle Allen would be a first- or second-round pick coming out of college if he had a good college career,” Palmer said. “Unfortunately, he got the short end of the stick twice.
“But he never wavered, and it was always a matter of time before he got a chance.”