Allen likely secures starting safety spot
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Nate Allen could have taken the Quintin Demps route to the bench. Instead the fourth-year Eagles safety opted for the high road and will likely retain his starting spot when the Eagles open the season in 10 days.
Four years ago, Demps entered training camp as the odds-on favorite to win the Eagles' only open starting safety spot.
Andy Reid typically sat his starters for the preseason finale, but Demps had failed to lock down the job and the former Eagles coach wanted to send the second-year safety a message.
Demps would play against the New York Jets, along with his closest competitors - veteran Sean Jones and rookie Macho Harris. Informed by reporters of Reid's decision two days before the game, Demps voiced his frustration.
"It's kind of irritating," Demps said.
Several days later, after Demps played as if he had something to lose instead of something to gain, he informed reporters that he had indeed lost the job to Harris.
"I'm disappointed in myself," Demps said. "I had an opportunity and I didn't capitalize on it."
Allen wasn't stellar for the one quarter he played Thursday night in the Eagles' 27-20 loss to the Jets. But he did enough to secure the safety spot opposite Patrick Chung and hold off rookie Earl Wolff, who started alongside Allen.
"I don't even stress about it," Allen said after the game. "That's not even in my hands. All I can do is just play and put what I put on tape and let everything else settle itself."
Chip Kelly won't name his starter until he watches the tape, but Allen was essentially in a position where all he had to do was not screw up. Fifth-round rookies have been known to start in the first NFL games of their careers (see: Harris), but Wolff is not ready and the Eagles don't want to fiddle with his development (see: Harris).
Allen's start was dubious. The Jets' first touchdown was hardly his fault, but running back Kahlil Bell dragged him into the end zone at the end of his 8-yard run. Allen has never been an aggressive tackler. The next time he delivers a hit that has fans wincing in reaction will be the first time.
But Allen is a competent pass defender. He came up and blanketed a receiver in the flat, forcing Jets quarterback Matt Simms to throw the ball away early in the first quarter. And he broke up a pass later when Simms tried to force a deep pass to receiver Michael Campbell.
Allen wasn't perfect in coverage by any means. He had trouble keeping up with Zach Rogers and the rookie receiver converted a third and 19 with a 23-yard catch and run. He was credited with only one tackle and the pass breakup and left after one quarter.
Safety is the most difficult position on defense to judge with a blind eye. Allen could have played in center field for the entire game, like some free safeties, and never seen a play.
The Eagles safeties are interchangeable, though, and Allen will have to play down in the box as much as Chung, who has a better nose for the ball. The Eagles likely wanted to light a fire under the taciturn Allen by stretching the competition.
Wolff played his way into the race, ahead of Kurt Coleman, David Sims, Colt Anderson, and the since-departed Kenny Phillips. He tallied three tackles and made a strong stop when he dropped Rogers after a 2-yard catch.
But Allen has more experience. Sometimes it's difficult to see the fire in his belly. Late last season when he was benched, Allen reacted as if he had just been told his shoes were untied.
Demps' failure in some nonlinear way led to the Eagles' drafting Allen a year later, in the second round of the 2010 draft. The Eagles are hoping this is the season Allen finally delivers upon the promise he showed as a rookie.
He appeared to be building toward something before he ruptured his patellar tendon that December. The Eagles then changed their defensive scheme the next season and Allen never adjusted to playing behind the wide-nine front.
The same was true for the other safeties, including the Eagles' 2011 second-round draft pick, Jaiquawn Jarrett, who happens to be playing for the Jets. Jarrett was cut last September but appears to have a spot sewn up in New York.
Even if Allen starts the season at safety, it does not mean the job will be his all season. When reporters rushed to him Monday after Kelly said that he would play in the preseason finale, Allen took the news in stride.
Was he thrown off that the competition would come down to the wire, a reporter asked?
"Not really, man," Allen said.
It was the right answer.
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow
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