Allen eager to prove himself

Nate Allen dropped the ball before succeeding in front of defensive backs coach Dick Jauron.
Nate Allen dropped the ball before succeeding in front of defensive backs coach Dick Jauron.
Posted: July 29, 2010

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - It wasn't exactly a smooth start for Eagles safety Nate Allen.

Allen missed the first day of training camp Tuesday while contract negotiations dragged out. Then, with a deal close, last-minute haggling prevented him from signing until about 2:30 Wednesday morning. Working on less than four hours' sleep, he dropped the first ball lobbed his way in warm-ups, and dropped to the ground for push-ups.

"It was kind of a wake-up call, I guess you could say," Allen said.

Eagles coaches quickly will forget the first-day hiccups if Allen emerges as the player they hoped for when they drafted him 37th overall in April: a slick coverage man with a knack for interceptions and, more broadly, a player who can fill a void in the defensive backfield. The team has all but handed Allen the starting free-safety job before he has put on the pads.

Coach Andy Reid said Allen will be the starter even when veterans arrive at camp Thursday.

"He could be one of those guys who could be a fixture," special-teams coach Bobby April said. April has worked with Allen on special teams, and he sat in on meetings with defensive coaches when they discussed Allen before the draft.

Allen, from South Florida, said he was eager to reward the faith the Eagles have shown in him.

"I'm just excited to be up here finally," he said.

Allen faces challenges: filling a role once held by Brian Dawkins, being labeled as the man selected with the "McNabb pick" obtained from the Washington Redskins, and mentally adapting to the NFL in a position that is essentially the quarterback of the defensive backfield.

Allen will have to read offensive personnel and formations and adjust the defenses in front of him. Though he had similar responsibilities in college, those duties in the NFL will be far more complex.

"You're making a lot of calls and you've got to get people lined up. You can't be shy," Reid said. "You've got to be able to recognize what's going on in front of you."

While Reid said Allen has adjusted so far, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said a greater test may come as practices progress and more is added to the playbook.

"Some can handle it and still play fast, and some can't," McDermott said.

Allen's fellow rookie safety, Kurt Coleman, a friend from the Senior Bowl and a roommate here at Lehigh, offered a touch of assistance, leaving Allen's playbook on his bed late last night.

"Other than the linebacker, I'd say the safety makes the most checks, because we've got to be able to command the whole backfield, and talk to the linebackers, and know what stunts and the blitzes are going on at all times," Coleman said. "There's a lot of things that go into each and every play that a safety has to know."

Scouts raved about Allen's range and coverage ability coming out of college, but some questioned his tackling - an issue that McDermott has said was a major liability for the Eagles last season.

McDermott said he wants to see what Allen, and every other rookie on defense, can do in pads against professional competition.

"Tackling in college is one thing, tackling in the NFL is another, so we'll just have to see," he said.

McDermott has no questions, however, about Allen's character. He raved about the rookie as a leader.

Allen appeared poised and comfortable in the media and fan spotlight Wednesday, staying long after both the morning and afternoon practices to sign autographs.

When the work finally ended, Allen stopped to talk to reporters, then headed to the locker room, looking forward to finally getting a decent night's sleep.

"I'll probably be out by 10 o'clock," he said.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com.

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