Shrine Bowl Interview: UCLA’s Kazmeir Allen Could Bring Versatility To Steelers

Growing up in Tulare, California, in the San Joaquin Valley midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Kazmeir Allen didn’t have to go far to find success in the NCAA. Chip Kelly was announced as the new head coach of the UCLA Bruins on a Saturday in November 2017 and made Allen his first committed recruit a mere three days later.

As Kaz explained to me, “Coach Kelly, he got the job and he was at my high school the next day and he was just talking to my head coach and obviously growing up I was an Oregon fan, watching De’Anthony Thomas, LaMichael James, these guys, smaller scat backs and I just figured it would be a perfect role.”

Allen set state and national records in high school that still stand today, including the single season touchdown record (72) and all-purpose yards (4626). He followed that by winning the state championship in the 100 m dash with a time of 10.44 seconds, which has yet to be beaten. With those accomplishments, he was named the CIF State Athlete of the Year.

The transition from superstar at the high school level to the NCAA wasn’t necessarily easy. Allen saw action as a reserve running back but wasn’t able to earn a starting role in his first few seasons.

“My freshman year I actually played the first game,” Allen notes. “I went for 105 yards, three carries, I believe. And then I just didn’t see the field for the next few games. Then I had my high ankle sprain. Then I redshirted my sophomore year and I got COVID my junior year. So, it’s definitely been a lot of bumps in the road, but I’m here now.”

Allen even had a brief stint on the Track and Field team at UCLA, competing in the 100 m dash and posting a time of 10.61. It wasn’t the performance he wanted but he couldn’t resist a chance to compete.

“I should have, but I shouldn’t have,” he says with a laugh. “It was coming after a football workout and I just wanted to go run. I’m coming off of a California State Metal and just wasn’t ready and just wanted to go out there and have that experience.”

If Allen had a slow start, he certainly posted a strong finish. In the two final seasons, he split time at running back and wide receiver and was used effectively in both roles. He also found success as the kick returner, averaging 24.6 yards on 18 returns. In 2022 Allen played 11 games and posted 1048 all-purpose yards.

He didn’t get many rushing attempts this season, but he made the most of them, as he did here against ASU:

He was invited to the East West Shrine Bowl as a running back but the New England Patriots coaching staff, serving for the West Team, quickly realized his potential at wide receiver and the plan changed. By the fourth and final day of practice, they confirmed that he would line up both in the backfield as well as play slot receiver and return kicks for the game. He’s been happy at any position as long as he’s getting the ball.

In the UCLA offense, he lined up in a variety of formations:

Against USC, Allen showed his ability and speed as a slot receiver:

A large percentage of Allen’s receiving yards came after the catch. While at first glance this looks like a run play, it’s technically a 42 yard reception:

Versatility has been the key to Allen’s success, and he says that a majority of the interviews he’s had with NFL scouts have highlighted that – including the Steelers, who specifically asked about his ability to return kicks and play in the slot. He looks at San Francisco 49ers Christian McCaffrey as a player he’d like to emulate but also understands that he would need to add some weight to be an NFL running back with 75+ carries per season. When asked if he would consider taking part in the kick coverage team, he replied that he did have a little experience as a gunner in his junior year and was sure he could do it again. After all, he says with a smile, “you can’t coach speed.”

He’s a competitor on every snap, even when he isn’t the one with the ball. As far as his approach to blocking, Allen says he’s “just trying to make sure my guys get what they deserve. Scouts look at that more as well too, when you don’t have the ball and your “want to” and I feel like I have a lot of that in me.” His approach varies based on the player he’s facing. He uses more force with linebackers than defensive backs.

When not playing or training, Allen considers himself a “homebody”, spending time with family and friends. He is extremely close with his four siblings and showed me their names tattooed on his right hand, crossword style, so he can always have them with him.

His mother, as it turns out, is a huge Steelers fan, who had texted him a photo of her Steelers coffee mug the morning that we spoke. And he says there are Terrible Towels all around the house.

“I grew up watching the Steelers,” Allen related. “My mom’s a Steeler fan. She just sent me a terrible towel this morning actually. Yeah, very familiar with the franchise. You know, growing up I used to like watching [their] defense, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, those guys just hitting people. So, very familiar with the fan base definitely. And I know how they are. Very good fans.”

Allen said he would love to land with the Pittsburgh Steelers, even knowing that they already have a great running back in Najee Harris and a backup in Jaylen Warren. He’s familiar with all the players on the roster but still believes he could find ways to contribute on offense, as he explained “if I’m in the backfield, my motion out to empty, get a linebacker on me…just different situations that I could help the team.”

He expects his track and field background will translate to his 40 time on his your pro day and hopefully at the NFL Combine. He hasn’t received an invitation yet but his performance this week should help. Allen has fully recovered from a mild ankle injury and has been preparing for the NFL draft at One Sports Rx in Agoura Hills, California.

In the East West Shrine Bowl, Allen wasn’t targeted as receiver, a surprising change from the original game plan that probably was due to his quarterback being under pressure most of the game. Allen contributed with three punt returns for 21 yards and two kick returns for 58 yards and a long of 34 yards. On a night that the West Team offense struggle, Kazmeir Allen found ways to help his team, and he hopes to do the same in the NFL.

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