Despite being 23 years old and having just a single season of experience in the National Football League, safety Nate Allen is viewed by his teammates as one of the leaders on the Eagles defense.
It may come as no surprise that Kurt Coleman (a 2010 seventh-round draft pick) and Jaiquawn Jarrett (a 2011 second-round draft pick) pepper Allen with questions about the safety position. After all, who better to ask than a player who opened his rookie season as a starter? Yet it's impressive that even Marlin Jackson (seventh year) and Jarrad Page (sixth year) can learn from a player like Allen.
"I think that comes with being a starter at the safety position," Allen said. "You have to help guys along. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a veteran but I've been here and I help Jaiquawn and some of the other guys that weren't here because I know what they're going through. I'm just trying to help them along."
Allen, a second-round draft pick a year ago, learned from one of the game's best safeties as a rookie: two-time All-Pro Quintin Mikell, who signed a contract with the St. Louis Rams this offseason.
"It's been tough losing Q," Allen said. "He was a good leader for the defense and whole team, but it is what it is. You just have to keep playing and the other guys have to step up and just fill in for him."
If Allen plays like he did in 2010, he'll have no problem helping to fill the void left by Mikell. Last year, Allen earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September, as he collected an interception or a sack in each of his first four games. He started 13 games before he suffered a torn patellar tendon in December, ending his season prematurely.
Although he played free safety in 2010, the Eagles plan to use either Coleman or Jarrett at free safety this year, while Allen slides to strong safety. Allen isn't fazed by his position change, he says.
"It's pretty much interchangeable," Allen said. "Free safety and strong safety, you have to know both of them, so I'll be good."
Besides switching positions, Allen is working under a pair of new coaches in the 2011 season. Mike Zordich is the new secondary/safeties coach, and Juan Castillo replaced Sean McDermott as the defensive coordinator. Allen says that he loves working with Zordich because of the coach's energy and former experience in the NFL.
As for Castillo, Allen has enjoyed having the team's old offensive line coach work on the defensive side of the ball.
"He's energetic," Allen said. "He's got a good scheme for us. He puts us in position to make a lot of plays and his defense gives the opportunity to play fast."
In the 2011 season, the Eagles will have a slew of new defensive players who can make plays, including Pro Bowl cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But despite the influx of new talent, Allen isn't making any bold predictions for this season. As a responsible leader, Allen simply wants the defense to perform at its highest level.
"We want to just be the best that we can be," Allen said, in an appropriate Military Day statement. "We want to hold people to as few points as we can and create a lot of turnovers and play fast."