Plenty of people outside the Eagles’ organization — and probably a few inside — doubted that Beau Allen and Taylor Hart would be able to play in Jim Schwartz’s aggressive 4-3 defense.
But Allen and Hart never doubted themselves.
“I think for whatever reason, we got brought in to two-gap and I think we got labeled as two-gappers, and for whatever reason, that kind of stuck,” Allen said. “And when people think of two-gappers, they think, ‘This guy will stay on blocks and aren’t as athletic.’ I guess what I’m trying to say I think there’s a different perception between guys that two-gap and guys that play in the defense we play.
“We’ve known all along that we can do this. And I think all the guys in the locker room have known that. It’s just kind of flipping that switch in your brain and getting used to a new mentality and scheme and being comfortable in it.”
Over the past month, they’ve shown they can indeed fit in Schwartz’s defense.
Allen and Hart were drafted in the seventh and fifth rounds, respectively, in the 2014 draft. Allen was seen as a prototypical nose tackle and Hart a 3-4 end. While Allen played in an attacking defense in college, Hart had never played a 4-3 tackle in college or the pros.
Still, they have both seemingly earned spots on the Eagles’ 53-man roster.
“I hope that the play I’ve done out here in these three preseason games has shown that I’m not just a 3-4 guy,” Hart said. “I can play both schemes.”
For a long time, veteran free agent pickup Mike Martin was considered not just a roster lock, but also a rotation player on the defensive line. He worked as the third tackle for a lot of the offseason before hurting his knee. He missed a couple weeks and was recently cut.
So how did Martin go from being a contributor to off the team?
“The knee just never came back,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It just never bounced back, and it is hard. It's tough for players and veteran players like that. You're making decisions that are kind of out of his control.”
With Martin gone, the top two backup tackles appear to be Allen and Hart, while undrafted rookies Destiney Vaeao and Aziz Shittu appear to be on the outside looking in.
With a roster spot already likely locked in, Allen will play in the preseason finale against the Jets, where he joked he hopes to pad his stats. Hart’s preseason is already over. He has knee and ankle injuries that will keep him out for the Jets' game, but Pederson said Hart will be ready for the opener.
Ready for the opener? That sounds like Hart has already won a job.
“I didn’t hear that,” Hart said. “Well, we’ll see what happens.”
Allen and Hart roomed together during their rookie seasons and remain close friends. They also worked incredibly hard this offseason to pickup a new defense and shed that “two-gapper” label.
One guy who might not be as surprised about Allen and Hart’s success in the defense is the guy in charge of it. Back in early August, before the pair showed what they could do in a game, Schwartz was asked about them and said, “Don’t sell those guys short. Just because that's what they were asked to do doesn't mean [that’s] the only thing [they’re capable of doing].
Turns out he was right.
Was there ever really that preconceived notion that they couldn’t play in this defense?
“Maybe from you guys (media),” Hart said with a smile. “I believed in myself.”
It looks like that belief is paying off.