THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Having started before, returning to that role again this season wasn't surprising for Rams center Brian Allen.
"It's been a lot of fun," Allen said last week. "We've been playing good. Things are going well, and proud to be back out there. This is kind of always been a part of my plan, so really, I don't know – I've always kind of expected it."
Not everyone else necessarily held the same view, though, as external speculation said the Rams needed to acquire Austin Blythe's replacement via the draft or free agency after Blythe signed with the Chiefs this offseason.
Still, Rams head coach Sean McVay maintained a stedfast belief that their internal options were more than capable candidates.
So far, Allen has proven him right.
Emerging from a difficult 18 months, Allen has become a key part of the strong, physical play by the Rams' offensive line this season, as well as the way the offense as a whole under quarterback Matthew Stafford has functioned.
"He's one of those feel-good stories that you love so much about working with people like him," McVay said after Week 1. "I want to continue to see him do what he's done and build off of that, but really pleased with Brian. Really happy for him."
As McVay alluded to, the last year and a half – really, nearly two years – threw multiple obstacles at Allen.
He was named the Rams' starting center in his second season (2019), then suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Steelers in Week 10. Five months later, he tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn't come to the facility for three weeks. He said last August the timing was unfortunate because was entering a critical part of his rehab.
Then the 2020 season came and went with Allen not playing in a single game.
While Allen was able to practice at the beginning of the 2020 season, he later dealt with knee swelling in early November that landed him on the injury report and prevented him from practicing, then left him a limited participant for the next month. Even when he got past that and resumed full participation, he did not see the field.
All told, he was inactive for 13 of 16 regular season games. The other three, he was active but didn't end up playing.
Yet when reflecting on last season, Allen indicated the challenging time shaped him for the better.
"Last year I wasn't really ever healthy," Allen said. "I was out there, I was on the roster. I wasn't really in a position to play, I'd say. I think there were a lot of weeks where Monday they told me, 'Hey, keep practicing,' and that was a lot of weeks, and then had some setbacks here and there. So just going from being the guy to someone who's kind of just a practice player, I know it's tough at first, but at the end of the da, I think I use that to my advantage as well. Just going out there, keep getting better and kind of understanding that the season's to rehab my leg and work on a couple different things that weren't the best in the past just keep improving."
Allen said last year there were a couple of weeks where he felt really good about being able to play, only for his knee to get "dinged up" around Week 10. He then had to get his knee drained twice a week.
"Felt really good before that, and then that happened, and then kind of went to s–– again for the whole season," Allen said.
Knowing his knee hadn't been right in a year-and-half, Allen said he went into it focusing on having the mindset "as if I still had a coming-off-a-surgery-type offseason." He went to rehab twice a week, "saw a lot of body workers, chiropractors, massage people," and did physical therapy with one of the Cardinals' trainers in Arizona – all so that he could show up healthy and "strain and put power through" his knee not just during training camp, but however long the Rams season would go.
His work would pay off.