Ravens running back Buck Allen had a tough life growing up poor in Florida before being taken in by a well-to-do family. Yes, kind of like Michael Oher.
Allen went off to star at USC, was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round in 2015, and even started six games as a rookie after injuries struck the unit.
Everything was looking up for Allen. That was until last season.
After posting 867 total yards (514 rushing) and scoring three touchdowns as a rookie, Allen got just nine carries and posted 49 total yards last season. He barely saw the field and didn't suit up for half of the team's games.
It was a humbling season for Allen. Now, entering his third year, Allen is looking to prove himself once again and is confident he'll do so.
"I feel like this is the toughest offseason – mentally – that I took myself through," Allen said. "I know it is going to pay off. I can say I hope, but I know the work that I put in, and I know it is going to show and pay off. I just have to translate it to the game."
As challenging as last season was, it got worse this offseason. His cousin, Christopher Ammons, passed away just before the start of minicamp. Ammons was there for Allen when he was training this offseason and had been there for him throughout his life.
Allen has lost family members before, including to prison, and this was another big hit. Allen said he had to step up even more to be the "rock for my family."
"Mentally, when you always have that one person that is never going to let you slip, it kind of brings the extra work up out of you," Allen said. "I know, for me, not having him there just made me want to push myself even harder, because I know if he was there he would push me."
Last year, Allen fell behind Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon and, at the start of the season, Justin Forsett. He struggled to separate himself from the pack, but still caught coaches' attention while working on the scout team.
Allen has a unique combination of size (6-foot-0, 222 pounds), power and wiggle. He can run inside or outside the tackles and is smooth catching the ball. Now he must improve on his 3.8 yards per carry, which is what he averaged as a rookie and last season.
"He's worked really hard and I really expect to see the best Buck Allen that we can see," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "But, this is a competitive business. We put the best guys out there."
Allen has looked better this offseason than he did a year ago. He's running with more balance and has worked on improving his quickness and footwork. With his size and quickness, he has the ability to adapt to Senior Offensive Assistant Greg Roman's versatile scheme. Allen says he loves the scheme.
"We are a run-to-daylight offense, and I think he has good vision," Roman said. "He has a lot of talent, so I think we will be able to use him in a lot of different ways. He has definitely impressed, pretty much on a daily basis."
This year, Allen once again has tough competition. West returns as the team's leading ball carrier and the Ravens signed veteran Danny Woodhead, who should see a ton of targets as a receiver and will also carry the ball out of the backfield.
Dixon's season-ending injury opens up an opportunity for Allen to be the No. 3 running back out of the gate, or even take some of West's carries if he falters. Allen is also competing with undrafted rookie Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell, who has made a strong first impression with his ability to make defenders miss while still showing some power for a smaller running back.
Just like last year, all the running backs will compete to see who will get opportunities. And the one who makes the most of their chances will keep getting them.
"I let the coaches decide that," Allen said. "But, I can say that my work ethic this year is going to show and is going to prove that I deserve to be out there."