Year after year, Nate Allen keeps winning the job

Year after year, Nate Allen keeps winning the job
August 23, 2014, 10:00 am
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Nate Allen makes a tackle in the Eagles' preseason opener against the Bears. (USA Today Images)

He’s outlasted Jaiquawn Jarrett and Jarrad Page. He’s outlasted Quintin Mikell and O.J. Atogwe. He’s outlasted Kenny Phillips, David Sims, Patrick Chung, Colt Anderson, Macho Harris, Earl Wolff and Kurt Coleman.

He’s even outlasted Marlin Jackson.

The Eagles have brought in countless safeties over the last few years to replace Nate Allen, and here we are, two weeks from 2014 opening day, and everything points to Allen once again opening the season as a starter.

Allen, now 26 years old and entering his fifth year with the Eagles, appears to have won a starting job opposite Malcolm Jenkins and ahead of Wolff, a fifth-round pick who did some positive things before getting hurt last year.

Story of his life. Other than his rookie year, when Allen was a hot-shot playmaking second-round pick before a December injury wiped out the rest of the season and carried over into 2011, Allen has had to fight off somebody or other to win a starting job and, in some cases, just to make the team.

Yet here he is, back in the lineup. At least for today.

“I’m still growing, still learning, still experiencing things,” Allen said. “The minute you think you’re where you need to be, that’s when the bottom falls out. So you’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Despite an up-and-down stay in Philly, Allen has started 54 games, and in the last 25 years, only four safeties have started more for the Eagles: Brian Dawkins (182), Mike Zordich (79), Mikell (59) and Michael Lewis (58).

And if he starts the first six games of the year, Allen will pass Mikell and Lewis.

This summer has probably been Allen’s best as an Eagle. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s been solid.

“I'm really happy with how Nate's played,” Chip Kelly said. “He's had an outstanding camp.”

Wolff may be more of a playmaker than Allen and he’s got more upside, but Allen has improved his tackling dramatically and playing under his fourth defensive coordinator since 2010, he’s developed a real comfort level in Billy Davis’ scheme.

Anybody who saw Allen play during the disastrous Jim Washburn Wide-9 era might think this is a different guy.

And he is.

“You’re put in a circumstance and you make the best of it,” Allen said of Washburn’s scheme, which forces safeties to cover a huge chunk of the backend and made Allen look like an amateur.

“You’ve got to play the system you’re in. That was a learning experience and it made me a better player. I matured that year, but the past is the past and you just learn from it and move on.”

Allen has never been the most popular Eagle, mainly for the crime of not being Dawk. And not being Earl Thomas.

But who better for fans to really get behind than a guy who’s overcome so much. A devastating injury as a rookie. A rotating cast of position coaches and coordinators. A shockingly bad 2012 season in the Wide-9. Several benchings. Free agency and a modest contract this past offseason.

Yet here he is, playing his best football.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Allen said of his preseason. “I’m always pretty critical of myself, and I’m still getting better, still learning, and I’m just going to keep working.

“Done some good things and some bad things. I can always improve in lots of areas, so I’ll never say I played well or I’ve gotten where I need to be because that’s not the case. You can always improve.”

And that list of safeties at the top of this story?

The guys Allen has outlasted?

That list is only going to get longer.

Allen is no longer a second-round pick with a big rookie contract. He’s a guy who is going to have to prove himself every year or be out of work.

“That’s been just about every year,” he said. “You’re still competing for a job, and that’s the way it’s going to be forever.

“You’re always going to compete and there’s always going to be young guys coming in and newer bodies and fresh bodies and you’ve just got to come out every day and play ball and be on top of your game.”

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