While the Saskatchewan Roughriders offence searches for consistency, Anthony Allen hopes he can maintain his steady form during the stretch run.
With just three weeks left in the CFL regular season, the defending Grey Cup champions are still looking for answers when it comes to moving the ball and finding the end zone. It has been a glaring problem since quarterback Darian Durant was lost to a torn tendon in his right elbow in early September.
Veteran Kerry Joseph is expected to get his first start at quarterback with the Riders (9-6) this season when they host the Edmonton Eskimos (9-6) on Sunday. He will be the fourth different starter the Riders have used at the position this year.
Saskatchewan has also deployed four different running backs this season. Despite all the changes, Allen has remained the team's most reliable offensive weapon.
"I just wanted to come up here and get adjusted to the game and do whatever I could to make the team better and help the team win," Allen said this week after practice.
In his first year with the Riders, the 26-year-old Tampa product has surprisingly carried the team, a role many believed would be taken by veterans like Chris Getzlaf or Weston Dressler.
Allen leads the CFL in rushing with 849 yards to go along with five touchdowns. His 36 receptions is second-most on the Riders, while his three receiving touchdowns have him tied for the team lead.
"He has done everything we have asked him to do," running backs coach Avon Cobourne said. "He came in here and he picked up the offence really fast. You can give him something one day and the next day he'll know it just like that. His ability to learn and to understand what you're teaching is what you want as a coach."
Allen joined the Riders in May as a free agent after he was cut by the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Prior to that, he spent two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, winning a Super Bowl in 2012.
But Allen was an unknown commodity at training camp with the Riders. He was in competition with Keith Toston to see who would replace Kory Sheets as the starter.
Sheets, now with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, averaged close to 1,400 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns during his two-year stint with Saskatchewan. He rushed for a Grey Cup-record 197 yards in last year's championship game and had two touchdowns to help the Riders to victory.
Allen won the starter's job this year but then had to deal with the late additions of Hugh Charles, Will Ford and Jerome Messam. Each player has started at least one game for the Riders this season.
"That competition definitely brought the best out of all of us," Allen said. "For me, the biggest thing was staying consistent. I'll come out running the ball hard, so that means in the next game I had better come out doing the same thing. It's the same with pass protection. You better do it right all the time."
Ford and Messam remain a part of the Riders' offence, but it's the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Allen who has risen to new heights in recent weeks. Since Durant's injury on Sept. 7 in Winnipeg, Allen has led the Riders in total yards in four of the past six games.
He rushed for 105 yards and scored the team's only touchdown last weekend in a 40-9 loss to the Montreal Alouettes.
"You want to see who is going to rise and who is going to fall," Cobourne said of the running-back carousel. "[Allen] was one of the better guys and he got that job. Right now, he's in a position to lead this team. We haven't been winning a lot of games lately, and so everyone needs to be a bit better."
The Riders have lost three in a row and four of five games overall since Durant went down.
Allen said the team's recent struggles remind him of his Super Bowl-winning season with the Ravens. That year, Baltimore limped into the playoffs having lost four of its last five games, but the Ravens pulled off three playoff wins before beating San Francisco in the championship game.
"We've fallen off a bit lately," Allen said. "But that's a part of the season, a part of getting some adversity thrown at you. You respond to that by showing your character. I think the character of this team needs to come out now."
"It's very similar to how things went down there [with Baltimore], with one exception being we don't have Ray Lewis on his last year. We have to hit the playoffs hot. As long as you hit the playoffs going hot, it doesn't matter whether you're at home or on the road, there's no telling what might happen. You may just win 'em all."
Joseph, meanwhile, was coaxed out of retirement and signed with the Riders on Oct. 9. The league's Most Outstanding Player in 2007, Joseph is 41 now and it's unclear how effective he can be.
"Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but I know my body feels good," Joseph said. "I might not be as fast as I was in '07, but I think my arm is still just as lively as it was back then. When you lose something physically, you gain something mentally.
"Just being around the game, I think I have picked up some more knowledge that I can bring to this team."
Joseph stayed involved in the sport during his retirement by working out quarterbacks and receivers at the high-school and college level in Louisiana. He also served as a guest coach during training camp with the NFL's New Orleans Saints.