Alumni Alley runs each Monday throughout the offseason on PhiladelphiaEagles.com and features a former Eagle who writes about his time in Philadelphia and his perspective after his NFL career ended. This week: former cornerback Eric Allen, who played with the Eagles from 1988-94. His 34 career interceptions are tied for most in team history and his five interception returns for touchdowns are the most in Eagles history. Allen was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame in 2011. He is currently an NFL analyst on ESPN ...
The NFL is a melting pot of personalities and backgrounds and egos, where players from all over the country come together and work side by side all week preparing for the big moment on game day. If you don't have the trust and the camaraderie in the locker room, you are not going to win on Sundays.
When I played with the Eagles, we had a special locker room. It was a big, bustling room with all kinds of energy and personality. It was a locker room not unlike many in that era – with great leadership and diversity. With all of that, we had a lot of maturity, which allowed us to work through every clash or hurdle we encountered.
When I think of the challenges Michael Sam will have in the NFL, I wonder if he will have enough mature guys around him in the locker room. He's going to have a lot of very young men around him with whatever team drafts him. Will he get the direction and leadership and maturity he needs to talk through any issues that might arise? Players need to find their peace in a locker room, their comfort zone. It's not an easy place to be.
In Philadelphia, we had Mike Pitts, Reggie White and some other veterans who had been through the wins and losses for football teams. We had Roynell Young, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters and a bunch of other veterans who had been there and experienced all the things they needed to experience. What's different about today is that I don't think there's that depth in leadership and maturity in the locker room, and that can adversely impact a team.
Our locker room was challenged. Nothing was off limits. You were going to be called on to bring your special talent into our locker room. You weren't going to be able to lay back and be quiet and just kind of float around. We tried to encourage everyone to speak out and to be a leader.
Buddy Ryan saw something a little special in all of us. It was important that we brought that to the team on and off the field.
We had men in our locker room. Now, the older guys are being weeded out of the NFL. That's the way it works with a salary cap. The league now demands that younger players become leaders more quickly in their careers, and that can be challenging for every locker room.
Here are some thoughts on the current Eagles:
Living on the West Coast, I was pretty familiar with Chip Kelly prior to his time with the Eagles. I've always been impressed with his approach to the game – both the tempo he uses and the way he uses the entire field on offense. We saw some of those philosophies in his first year in Philadelphia.
It took some time for the Eagles to catch up to the style and pace of play. You can go through Training Camp and learn it that way, but when you get into a game and see what defenses are doing to you, it's an entirely different situation. So now the players understand it, and I expect to see the Eagles find another gear in 2014.
- Year one was a success for the Eagles, in that Chip turned the locker room over and changed the culture. Most important, he found that Nick Foles is someone who can run this offense and run it well, so I expect to see the Eagles continue to build the offense and help Nick develop – he is still a young quarterback – and provide as many options as possible for the passing game and the running game.
- The defense, on the other hand, may need some more time. The Eagles were somewhat successful on defense with smoke and mirrors last year, because they just didn't have the personnel. It is tough to address all of those needs in one offseason, so while I expect the Eagles to add some players on defense in free agency and in the draft, they're going to need another offseason to really put the right players into the defense.
- It's an interesting time for defenses in the league. We've seen recently how two different approaches work. One is what the Giants did so successfully, and that was to get after the quarterback with the front four and then play zone coverage behind the front. Other teams mixed up their coverages behind the pass rush. Seattle played the kind of defense in 2013 that reminded everyone that great defense can still be played in this league if you tackle well. All of the teams that play in the NFC West play stout defense, and what stands out with those defenses is that they are complete: They tackle well, they have a good pass rush and they have the players to do the job in pass coverage.
So that's the level the Eagles need to reach. It isn't about gimmicks. It's about playing consistent, fundamental football, and it's going to take a couple of years to have it all come together.