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Non-linear development and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen

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Ups and downs should be expected as Allen continues to acclimate to the pro game.

Human development is non-linear. Those who are familiar with child psychology are aware that in various stages of growth, it’s common for children to advance in one area while regressing in others. For example, a child who has begun going to a new school may suddenly exhibit behavior that they had previously outgrown, such as wanting to sleep in their parents’ bed.

Similarly, the development of young football players is non-linear. There’s a common misperception that every player advances at a steady rate until they reach their peak, but that isn’t the case. With that in mind, it’s important that fans and the team are patient with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen in his second season as he endures the inevitable ups and downs.

Allen had his moments last season (see the second half of the season finale against the Miami Dolphins), but overall he was what we were told he would be: very raw but with great upside.

Coming from the University of Wyoming, Allen lacked the top-level coaching, teammates and competition that those from powerhouse conferences enjoy, making him the proverbial developmental player.

While his athleticism is apparent, a player with Allen’s background will lack in knowledge of the game and technique, as Greg Cosell of Yahoo and NFL Films stated:

“What you’re getting with Allen is a player with undeniable physical skills, but a quarterback who is unrefined and inconsistent in his execution and production,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious what Allen can do. The question becomes, can his NFL team coach him hard and develop him into a quarterback who can get the most out of those physical skills?”

So while it’s easy to want to compare him to the other quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 picks of the 2018 NFL draft, it would be unfair to pit Allen against peers from major programs like Oklahoma, USC and UCLA, respectively, all of whom were groomed for the modern NFL. Allen needs more time to develop.

When it comes to his development, new quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will undoubtedly work with him on mechanics, processing defensive schemes, and decision making. This is where the young quarterback’s development is likely to become non-linear.

The reason athletes practice is that the repetition creates muscle memory and neuropaths that allow for better performance. The problem is that when one is going through the process of retraining one’s body to move or their mind to think differently, it takes concentration. When concentrating on one aspect of development, it’s common to fall back into old habits of a different variety.

For Allen this might mean that while in a game situation, if he’s actively concentrating on improved footwork he might mentally process a blitzing linebacker a split-second slower, or vice versa. The only way for this to improve is through repetition so that eventually all aspects of his game, from throwing motion to recognizing coverages, become automatic.

With this in mind, along with Josh Allen’s college background, one can expect that the 2019 season will be filled with ups and downs. Indeed, fans will undoubtedly be delighted by some of the deep throws that appear to have been fired by a missile launcher. Yet there will also be moments of frustration when Allen’s mechanics go haywire and he misses a wide open receiver running a three-yard crossing route. This is all part of the development of a young quarterback.

One can expect to see an improved player over last season due to both Allen’s personal development and an improved supporting cast. But fans must also take caution to not focus on the highs or the lows, of which there could be many. Instead look at the entire body of work at the end of the season to evaluate the young quarterback. It’s unlikely he’ll be a finished product at the end of his second year, but if there’s overall improvement he could be on his way to being the quarterback Bills fans have been hoping for.