It’s pretty clear now why Eagles coaches tabbed Nate Allen over Earl Wolff in the competition to start opposite safety Malcolm Jenkins without giving Wolff much of a chance to run with the first team.
Allen has quickly joined Brent Celek, Cedric Thornton, Jason Kelce and Brad Smith as players who get extra heavy doses of praise at the podium.
On Wednesday, defensive coordinator Bill Davis called Allen a “mentally tough young man” who pulled his career out of the doldrums and emerged into a reliable piece of an improved defense despite the rampant criticism he’s endured throughout his career.
“I mean, what he's gone through and his development and the trials and tribulations he's had and the heat he's taken in his career in Philadelphia has not fazed him,” Davis said. “In my two years with him -- or year-and-a-half now -- he comes to work the same guy every day and he puts his head down and takes notes and he works and he works. He practices hard and he's there every day with the same attitude.
“So, I love to see him growing like he is and finally settling in and making plays. I think that's a testament to his mental toughness and his character of how he is and has not been fazed by the ups and downs that he's had early on and hopefully we have a lot of ups in his future.”
Allen started all 17 games last year, his first season in which he hasn't missed at least three games. His 94 tackles marked a career high. He even returned an interception 43 yards, another career best. In the offseason, he signed a one-year free-agent deal to return and “compete” with Wolff to start.
Allen started all three preseason games and rested for the fourth, a sign that he’d won the job, which he did easily.
Allen recently told CSNPhilly.com that he felt like a survivor given all the safeties the Eagles had brought in over the past few years to take his job (see story).
While guys like Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin and Vinny Curry are more often mentioned as 2014 breakout candidates, Allen’s name should get tossed into the mix. On Thursday, head coach Chip Kelly echoed Davis’s sentiment on Allen’s resiliency.
“The one thing I love about Nate, I’ve seen the same Nate since the first day we’ve been here till today,” Kelly said. “He’s got a great demeanor about himself. He’s one of those guys you can just label professional. He comes here every single day just trying to get better.
“Nate’s not a guy that has bad days. Sometimes you see a guy walking down the hall and all of a sudden their shoulders are slumped or something is bothering them or whatever. Nate’s not that type of guy. He’s coming here every single day with a mindset that he’s gonna get better and I’ve seen that from him.
“He’s striving to constantly improve and that’s a real admirable quality to have. I think you have to be mentally tough to do that. No matter what’s gone on, you’re not controlling your life throughout outside influences. I think Nate is a prime example of that, so I agree with Bill that he’s a real mentally tough guy.”
Another reason for a potential Allen breakout? This is his first season working the same coaching staff as the year before.
In his first four years, Allen had three different defensive coordinators (Sean McDermott, Juan Castillo, Todd Bowles) and four position coaches (Dick Jauron, Mike Zordich, Bowles and Bobby April III).
“I just think he has a better knowledge, a better experience, things have slowed down for him mentally,” Kelly added. “You could see him start to process things at a quicker rate just because he’s a lot more comfortable.
“He was a guy who was in a lot of different systems and had a lot of different coaches in the last couple of years. So I think he’s handled it really well, and it’s a positive for him that Billy is still here, John (Lovett) is still here, Todd (Lyght) is still here, the defensive scheme and the coaches on that side haven’t changed and I think he’s really benefited from that.”