By Lance Epstein
One of the most pressing issues last season for the Philadelphia Eagles was replacing All-Pro free safety Brian Dawkins. Unfortunately, rookie Macho Harris and second-year pro Quintin Demps failed to amass the numbers close to that of the future Hall of Famer or meet the team’s lofty expectations.
With Harris being moved back to his natural cornerback position and Demps not living up to e
xpectations, the Eagles decided to target South Florida free safety Nate Allen in the second-round of the 2010 NFL Draft. It was plan to sure up one of their biggest flaws.
However drafting Allen was only half of the battle, getting Allen him into camp on time was the other half. Allen was raring to get to camp on time or at least not missing a lot of time due to his fear of falling behind.
"Every rep counts and I knew that sitting at home," Allen said. "I was talking to my agent, pushing him like, ‘Hey, when’s a deal going to get done?’ because I was just ready to get up here and start working. I felt like I was getting behind, but I’m glad to be up here finally.”
However fans should not worry about Allen since he was hard at work even though he was not with the team. Instead of just sitting around, he was learning the ins-and-outs of the playbook and found himself in full camp mode even without being physically at Leigh.
“I’ve just been in Philly working out and just in the playbook getting ready to come up to camp," he said. "This last week I’ve been kind of zoned out because I was thinking I was going to be here on the 26th. But I finally got up here today and I just kind of zoned out and have been in camp mode.”
Still, the Eagles wanted Allen in camp to see if they have found the long awaited replacement to one of the best players in Eagles history. And so he could begin to gel with the rest of the defensive unit. In his first practice, head coach Andy Reid came away impressed from his rookie, who is currently No. 1 on the depth chart at free safety.
"He didn't look like he had missed much from the mental standpoint," Reid said. "We threw a few different formations at him and he seemed to make all the adjustments well and he's making all the calls back there.
"Nate's very intelligent. I think he has very good ball skills. I know somehow he got labeled as not being a physical guy, I think he's a very physical player. Off of what he did in college, I'll be curious to see again how he sustains once the veterans get in here and we start cranking it up, but I would expect he'll do very well there.
Nevertheless Reid knows it is extremely valuable for Allen to be in camp since his job requires him to be atop of his game from the get-go. Yet, Reid believes Allen can make that impact in defensive coordinat
or Sean McDermott's system.
"(Free safety) is tough from the standpoint that you're making a lot of calls and you have to get people lined up so you can't be shy and then you've got to be able to recognize what's going on in front of you," said Reid talking about the intricacies of the safety position. "You can tell how the players respect him, at least in the mini-camps, where they knew that he knew how to make the adjustments, so they had some trust there and that's an important part of it. The rest of it becomes a physical thing and I think he has the skill to do it."
Reid was not the only one that had been chiming in on Allen's first day at camp. The media has been all over the rookie’s every move. Fortunately, Allen knows that comes with being a professional athlete and does not let it influence his game.
“I had heard stuff, but I tried not to pay too much attention to the news and just try to focus in on what I need to do," Allen said on the media following his every footstep of his first training camp practice. "Especially being a rookie, I have a lot to learn and I just tried not to get caught up in the other stuff. It’s just getting the playbook down mainly and getting ready for the season.”
Even with the high praise from his head coach, Allen learned that there is more hard work to be done especially after his first practice where he dropped the ball. One reason he might have dropped the ball is that he is still tired due to the fact he did not arrive at Leigh until 2:30 in the morning. Followed by being required to wake up at 6:15.
His secondary coach Dick Jauron had no sympathy for him as he made him do the proverbial 20 (20 pushups for dropping the ball), which Allen referred as a "wakeup call."
"It was a wakeup call," Allen said. "Just don't drop the ball. I don't know what happened on that, but those pushups definitely woke me up."
Still, Allen acknowledges and understands that he has a great opportunity to play significant snaps this upcoming season with the Eagles. Additionally, he realizes that he must build on the each days’ performance so that he can become an impact player for the defense and help the team win more games.
“I feel good and like you said it’s an opportunity. I just know I have to learn as much as I can because I’m still learning and just getting in with the veteran guys and the coaches and just trying to take advantage, make plays and help the team win,” Allen said. "You just need to run with it because it's your chance to show what you can do and you just need to learn as much as you can. That's what I'm trying to do right now."
Right now it appears that Allen is translating what he has learned from the playbook onto the practice field at a high level. In addition, Allen's down-to-earth personality and eagerness to improve should help him get better as he gets more comfortable with the system.
“I feel confident in what we doing so far, but I have a lot to go and I have a lot to learn still," Allen said. "It’s just getting comfortable in it because I’ve only been in the system a couple of months, but that’s no excuse. I have to take it and run with it and get in the playbook.”
There is good news for Allen, he has three more weeks to absorb and regurgitate that defensive playbook. Plus he will get the chance to catch up on plenty of sleep in Bethlehem so he can be more efficient on the field. More importantly though, if Allen can be the player that Reid talks so highly about then the Eagles defense could transform from a middle-of-the-road defense to a championship caliber defense.