Deuce gets loose.......
Deuce gets loose
By Chris Pika, September 18, 2003; 11:30 pm
Acceleration and separation. When Saints coaches are asked what makes running back Deuce McAllister special, they use those two words the most. It is a deadly combination for a back that can run, catch and sometimes even throw the ball on offense.
RB Deuce McAllister has 195 yards in his first two games of the 2003 season
The Saints' feature back led the NFC in rushing yards with 1,388 and tied the club record for rushing touchdowns with 13. He was second in the NFC in scoring by non-kickers (96 points) and was also second in the conference in total yards from scrimmage with 1,740.
His top month was October, when he picked up NFC Offensive Player of the Month award after a stretch in which he rushed for six TDs and averaged over 124 yards per game.
One of the more versatile backs in the league, McAllister caught 47 passes for 352 yards, which was second on the team in receptions.
McAllister was selected by the Saints in 2001 with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft. He came out of Ole Miss with 4,889 all-purpose yards and 35 rushing TDs, which were both school records.
Much like another Ole Miss grad that came to the Saints after college in QB Archie Manning, McAllister had high expectations placed on him from the start and like Manning, delivered on the promise.
McAllister was part of a strong draft class that included LaDainian Tomlinson, who was selected by San Diego and Anthony Thomas, who went to Chicago. Unlike both of those players, McAllister did not go into the starting lineup immediately in his rookie season. He was slotted as Ricky Williams' backup and became one of the top threats in the NFL on special teams.
He saw limited action as a rusher as he carried the ball just 16 times for 91 yards and caught 15 passes for 166 yards. He did most of his damage that season as the club's primary kickoff return man. He returned 45 kickoffs for 1091 yards and his 24.2 per return average was fifth in the NFC.
"You are dependent on your teammates when you return kicks," said McAllister. "At the same time, I took it as a challenge to give the offense as much field position as I could."
What he showed in 2001 was a quick adjustment to the speed of the pro game and a combination of speed and size that allowed him to do several things on the field. All of those skills came together in one game - at Atlanta in a December matchup in the Georgia Dome.
He had a 54-yard TD run and threw for a 12-yard score in a 28-10 victory over the Falcons. He was the first non-QB to run for and throw for a TD in the same game since RB Mario Bates did in 1997 while the 54-yard scoring run was the longest by a Saint since Bates' effort in his double-threat contest. McAllister also caught a pass for eight yards and returned three kickoffs for 69 yards.
That performance opened a lot of eyes in the league as to why the Saints took McAllister. One year later, Williams was dealt to Miami and McAllister moved into the feature role.
"I had to get used to the speed of the game," McAllister said. "Once you get adjusted, then it's just a matter of going out there and playing. You have to be on top of your game."
He was on the top of his game in 2002 as he ripped off 100-yard plus rushing efforts in his first two games and in six of the first eight contests. His career-high 139 rushing yards vs. San Francisco in the Superdome helped the Saints beat the 49ers, 35-27. He rushed for three TDs as part of a 127-yard day at Baltimore during a victory late in the season.
His performance over the course of the season was recognized as he was selected as a starter for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. "It shows that your peers, coaches and fans are rewarding you for your season," said McAllister. "It was a great honor. To get to the Pro Bowl five, six, seven times is really what you want to do."
His style is a combination of several great runners that he idolized. "I grew up admiring Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders," McAllister said. "I tried to steal a little bit from each of their game and put it into my own."
His strengths as a runner are in using his natural abilities. "I've tried to be as elusive and versatile as possible," he said. "Versatility will take you a long way in this league because it's all about matchups. Using matchups against linebackers who don't cover as well is a plus for me. The other advantage is that I am a power runner and a sprinter. I can turn the corner and take it 50 or 60 yards."
That use of speed to get away from defenders is a key reason for McAllister's success, according to Saints running backs coach Dave Atkins. "He can make plays on the field that are simply amazing for a guy of his size," said Atkins. "You see guys like Marshall Faulk or LaDainian Tomlinson, who can separate from defenders. For a big man like Deuce to accelerate like that and separate from defenders, is very unusual."
Something basic also plays a part in McAllister's success, said Atkins. "He has great vision," he said. "Great runners have excellent vision - they can see the whole field. He understands the blocking schemes for the plays that are designed in our running game and he has a great feel for that."
Where can McAllister go from here? Atkins thinks he has the answer. "He could be one of the best, if not the best all-purpose running back in the NFL. He is certainly capable of doing that. During this past offseason, we worked on his pass protection which was something he didn't do as much of in college. He has improved a lot in that area and that will enhance his ability to be the best back in the next couple of years."
If that happens, then McAllister could reach a goal he has set for himself. "Everybody wants to go to Canton (the Hall of Fame)," he said. "You want to finish in the top five all-time for running backs and that's what my ultimate goal is."
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