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October 13, 2011MADISON - The grin on Bret Bielema's face when asked about his young defensive tackle's weight loss was palpable.
It was almost as if he was finally baited into admitting what the secret to Beau Allen's success as a sophomore pass rusher and run stuffer was and currently is.
"I think he kind of saw that he could be a lot more explosive at a lower weight," Bielema said. "He did a nice job of getting it off and putting it back on correctly."
When Allen committed to play for Wisconsin out of Minnesota he was one of the more highly touted prospects in his class. There just aren't too many true defensive tackles, with the appropriate body mass to back it up, at the high school level.
But even though he weighed around 335 pounds, sometimes 50 pounds more than the next heaviest defensive lineman on the UW roster, Allen just wasn't feeling right.
One of the assignments defensive linemen have to do at Wisconsin is watch other Big Ten players at their position. When Allen sat down to study some of the various defensive tackles in the league, he noticed none of them were nearly as big as he was.
"I just realized I could be a much better player at a lighter weight," Allen said. "I'd be more explosive and I could play harder. I could just pursue the ball better. It was a lot of little things.
"I made a commitment and with that I really feel good right now."
So after playing quite a bit as a freshman - - Bielema said Allen played more because of ability rather than his skill set - - Allen decided enough was enough.
So he went and talked to strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert and co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. Together, they developed an eating plan that told Allen the times of day he should consume his food and how many fruits and vegetables he should have.
That, and a dedicated mindset, led to some good natured ribbing simply because the weight came right off.
"For our workouts we had to put on weighted vests that were 25 pounds," Allen said. "I put on a 25-pound vest and I couldn't believe that was how much I weighed last year. I felt like (crap). The other guys put on two vests and were like, (Beau), this is what you weighed last year.
"I feel a lot better and it's definitely showing up in my game."
Through five games Allen ranks 15th on the team with 10 tackles. Not impressive numbers, but encouraging nonetheless.
Allen's 3.5-tackles-for-loss ranks third on the team with David Gilbert and Shelton Johnson. Only Mike Taylor (4 TFL's) and Chris Borland (5 TFL's) have more.
Even more exciting is the fact that Allen is emerging as a true playmaker at his position. His team-high three sacks back that fact up.
"More important than statistics and stuff like that is progressing," Allen said. "That's what I want to do. I want to continue to work on my technique."
At a lower weight - - Allen is currently listed at 310 pounds after entering the program well over 330 - - the sophomore has experienced more explosiveness off the snap. He's quicker to reach his opponents at the proper pad level and he's better suited to utilize his strength to gain the momentum he needs to wreak havoc in the backfield or maintain gaps.
"The thing about playing defensive tackle is you're right next to the ball," Allen explained. "You don't really have any room for error with footwork or stuff like that. A safety could take a bad step and still recover.
"I just want to continue to progress with footwork and my stance until I slowly become more consistent."
It's clear that Allen has become a great asset to the Badger defensive line, particularly later in games when Charlie Partridge likes to utilize the depth he has up front. Though he won't be the first to admit that he's making that type of progress, simply because he's hypercritical of himself, Allen's coaches are seeing it on a daily basis.
"Both Charlie and myself have been kind of poised for Beau to make a big jump over these past couple of weeks," Bielema said. "He'll use that moving into these next few weeks."
"He's playing at a pretty high level right now."
Wisconsin, a team featuring a defense that prides itself on group efforts and general team productivity, will be better off if Allen continues to make the progress he's shown throughout the first five weeks of the season.
Maybe more than anything, especially considering he's had a season to develop, the confidence that Allen has developed will continue to serve him well.
"I think it comes with experience," Allen said. "I already played last year so I think it's calming me down a little bit. That gives me confidence. Outside of football losing weight always makes you feel good. Especially when you're going out.
"There's nothing wrong with that."
Sometimes 310 is just better than 335-plus.
"I'm still the heaviest defensive tackle by 20 pounds at least," Allen joked. "But I feel a lot better."