BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- It wasn't exactly a smooth start for Eagles safety Nate Allen.
He missed the first day of training camp while contract negotiations dragged out. Then, with a deal close (and already announced by the team), last minute haggling prevented him from signing until around 2:30 Wednesday morning. Working off less than four hours sleep, he dropped the first ball lobbed his way in warm ups, and owed his team some push ups.
"It was kind of a wake up call, I guess you could say. Just don't drop the ball," Allen said.
Eagles coaches will quickly forget Allen's first-day hiccups if he emerges as the player they expected to see when they drafted him 37th overall in April: a slick-covering safety with a knack for interceptions and, more broadly, a player who can fill a void in the team's defensive backfield.
Allen, from South Florida, said he was eager to get on the field and repay the faith the Eagles have shown in him, all but handing him the starting free safety job before he has even put on pads.
"I'm just excited to be up here finally," Allen said.
So were fans. One cheered, "Let's go Nate Allen!" as he went through coverage drills. After practice a long queue formed up for his autograph. Allen signed until the team pulled him away to meet with reporters.
Coach Andy Reid said Allen will still be the starter at free safety when veterans arrive Thursday.
In seven-on-seven passing drills Allen, wearing a white number 29 jersey, teamed with seventh round pick Kurt Coleman, a fellow safety who impressed coaches himself Monday. Allen largely roamed down field and provided help coverage.
Coleman and Allen know each other from the Senior Bowl and roomed together at the NFL's rookie symposium. They share a room here at Lehigh, along with cornerback Trevard Lindley.
Allen said he had to take a little bit of ribbing from teammates today at practice, but avoided any issues last night, since most of the team was asleep. Coleman, who is also going through the challenge of learning to play safety in the NFL, even offered a bit of help, laying Allen's playbook out on his bed.
The two rookies are making one of the tougher college-to-pro transitions. Playing safety requires making proper reads and check-offs and communication with teammates, more so than some other defensive positions.
"It's tough from the standpoint that you're making a lot of calls and you got to get people lined up. You can't be shy," Reid said. "You got to be able to recognize what's going on in front of you. You can tell how the players respect him -- at least in the minicamps -- by [how] they knew that he knew how to make the adjustments."
Reid praised Allen's intelligence and coverage skills, adding that he is looking forward to seeing how the rookie responds when the veterans arrive.
To make room for Allen on the 80-man roster, the Eagles released linebacker Alex Hall.
Hall came to the Eagles in early April in the deal that sent cornerback Sheldon Brown and linebacker Chris Gocong to Cleveland. The Eagles also received fourth and fifth round draft picks in the exchange. Hall, who played in 30 games for the Browns, was expected to compete for either the strong-side linebacker spot or line up as a pass-rushing end.
Score one for former Eagles and current Browns general manager Tom Heckert!