Forget Todd Pinkston. Forget Izel Jenkins. Forget Ellis Hobbs, Ernie Sims and Demetress Bell.
Forget all of them.
No player in recent Eagles history has come under more scrutiny and more criticism than Nate Allen.
OK, maybe Donovan McNabb, but that’s a story for another day.
Allen, the Eagles’ second-round pick in 2010, has been benched so many times we’ve lost count. We’ve all seen the missed tackles, the poor angles to the ball, the blown coverages.
Despite it all, Allen has continued to battle, continue to work and, yes, continued to improve.
And after a shaky start to his fourth NFL season, Allen has actually played fairly well the last few weeks.
Now, don’t go jumping to the bottom of the story to rip me for even writing it.
Allen has raised his game recently. And he said that as critical as fans and media have been of his play, nobody could be as critical as he is himself.
“Real critical,” he said. “I beat myself up pretty bad. Not during the game, but after the game, watching tape. But that’s what makes me a better player, when you can sit there and criticize yourself and face what you did wrong.”
Somehow, Allen is one of only two defensive starters left from 2010 opening day. His once-promising career -- three interceptions in his first four games -- was derailed by a knee injury late in 2010, and he hasn’t been the same since.
Under two head coaches, four defensive coordinators and an astounding seven defensive backs coaches (Dick Jauron, Mike Zordich, Johnnie Lynn, Todd Bowles, Bobby April III, Todd Lyght and John Lovett), Allen has continued to work.
It hasn’t always been pretty. In fact, it usually hasn’t been. But he deserves credit for persistence. And the last few weeks, it’s paid off.
“I think Nate's confidence is growing in two places, in himself and in the scheme,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “I think he's getting better with his eyes and where he places them, which makes him in a better position to make his plays now.
“As a safety position, it's a little unique in that if your eyes aren't right and you get yourself out of position, now those tackles, you put yourself in a bad position to make a tackle, and then you miss more. When you line up right and you put your eyes in the right spot, it takes you to the place you need to be to make your plays.
“And I think Nate each week is getting a little bit better and a little bit better of the fundamentals of where to place his eyes, and he's putting himself in position to make tackles. And we're working hard on tackling every day. And I think that's helping him.”
Allen said his focus in practice and in film study has been on taking better angles to the football, which puts him in better position to make tackles.
We’re not going to sugarcoat this. It’s not like Allen is playing at a Pro Bowl level. But there has been progress, and he’s honest about where he is.
The last few weeks, he hasn’t had any major breakdowns, and on Sunday at the Meadowlands he turned in probably his most sound game of the year in the Eagles’ 36-21 win over the Giants.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better, and I’m going to just try to keep getting better every week,” he said. “Tackling and angles to the ball, those are things we work on in practice every day, fundamental stuff. It’s all fundamentals and me trying to get better at it and working at it in practice.”
The last two weeks, Allen started at strong safety alongside rookie Earl Wolff, while veteran Patrick Chung, the starter at free safety, rehabbed a shoulder injury.
Neither head coach Chip Kelly nor Davis has said what the plan is once Chung returns, but the Eagles began the season with Allen and Chung starting and Wolff rotating in, and that will probably be the plan moving forward.
“I think Nate has improved,” Kelly said. “You know, [he’s gotten] a grasp of what we're doing. Getting a better understanding of everything that our defensive package entails.
“I think he is starting to see things. Things are starting to slow down a little bit for Nate. He's starting to get an idea of kind of what the route recognition is, what's coming at him and things like that. He's a guy that I've seen over the last couple weeks make strides.”
We’ve all seen players on the Eagles and vilified athletes on other teams in other sports in the city turn surly. Not Allen. Despite his rocky few years, the former second-round pick is one of the most cordial, cooperative guys in the locker room.
If all the criticism has affected him, he doesn’t let on.
“The lord’s blessed me to be here in the league and it’s a blessing every day to be able to play ball,” Allen said. “It’s something I love to do, and whether it’s good, bad, I’m going to enjoy every day and take whatever comes.”
The Eagles are 30th in the NFL in pass defense and have allowed the seventh-most passing yards in NFL history after five games.
But they played better against the Giants -- holding Eli Manning to a 46 percent completion percentage and picking him off three times -- and they’ll seek another win Sunday in Tampa when they face Buccaneers rookie Mike Glennon, who’ll be making his second NFL start.
It’s another opportunity for Allen to put the boos behind him and continue trying to rediscover his rookie form.
“I definitely have a long way to go,” he said. “I realize that. I’ve got a long way to go. That’s just the mentality you have to have, and that’s the mentality I have.”
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