Free safety Nate Allen didn't need much time to earn the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates. Cornerback Ellis Hobbs said that "not one time have I looked at him and thought of him as a rookie."
Allen has displayed tremendous instincts, great range and the ability to be a weapon as a blitzer in the preseason. He might be the best athlete in the secondary. But the season opener this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers will offer a tremendous test for the entire defense. Last year, the Packers had the third-highest scoring offense in the league (28.8 points per game) and boast a bevy of weapons led by one of the game's best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers.
"They have a good offense. It's going to be a test," Allen said. "It'll be fun. Once you throw on the pads and get in between the lines, we just have to play ball no matter who it is. I'm ready to start playing. Now, every game counts. You can't help but be excited."
A second-round pick out of South Florida, Allen isn't the only rookie starting on defense. Defensive end Brandon Graham, the team's first-round pick, is also a starter. In all, there are five new starters on defense compared to last season - Allen, Graham, Stewart Bradley, Ellis Hobbs and Ernie Sims. Strongside linebacker Akeem Jordan was a starter, but on the weak side to open last season.
The rapid development of the defense provides plenty of reason for optimism as the season is about to get underway.
"We're real confident. We still have some work to do. We're going to get ready this week, work out the kinks," Allen said. "I've just tried to learn as I go. Stuff is going to get tough and I guess that's part of being a rookie."
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 7:40 a.m., September 8