On the Allen/Jenkins Dynamic

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Chip Kelly cracked wise as a reporter began asking whether Nate Allen and Malcolm Jenkins play a physical enough brand of ball to be an effective safety duo.

“They’ve been knocking the [stuffing] out of people in OTAs, so be ready for that,” Kelly quipped.


Joking aside, the two safeties currently atop the depth chart aren't exactly known for laying the lumber. Philosophically, how important is it to have an enforcer in the back end in the head coach's view?

"I mean, we don't talk about an enforcer, but I think you have to have a total football player, so there's not one thing where you say, ‘Well, he's not real good at this, but we're okay.  We'll let that slide,’" he said. "No matter what position you are, I think the same thing goes for [cornerbacks] for us.  I think Bradley [Fletcher] and Cary [Williams] are two examples of it.  They're our two safeties on our kickoff cover team because of how well they do tackle.  Anybody that's going to line up for us defensively has to be a good tackler."

It's fair to say that tackling hasn't been the strength of either Jenkins or Allen's game over their respective careers, however. Jenkins  was charged with 16 missed tackles last season according to Pro Football Focus, fifth most among safeties. He had 20 the year before that. At his introductory press conference, the former Saint suggested that was due in part to changes in his role and New Orleans' scheme over the past couple seasons, but conceded that tackling was an area of his game that needed work.

Allen knows full well how scheme can impact success rate. The 26-year-old had 13 missed tackles over 871 snaps in 2012. With much of his run responsibilities relieved under Billy Davis, that number dropped to seven missed tackles over 1,200 snaps last season.

"The 3-4, you really don't have your safeties responsible for certain gaps,” said Allen. “You're not playing quarters and also have to fill up a 'B' gap or something like that because, you know, that's when you start biting on play action and stuff and things start going downhill.

"We're pass first, pass second and then pass third.” 

Safety responsibilities vary from system to system, and therefore so does desired personnel. A bone-crushing box safety would be appealing to this fan base, no doubt, but wouldn't be a fit for Davis' scheme necessarily.

"You look at Seattle, they really have that big safety that plays in the box and beats up tight ends and can play like a linebacker but also is good in coverage and they have a true post field safety, whereas we have the exact opposite," said Jenkins, "where both of our safeties can be on a receiver, can be on a tight end, can blitz and can be back deep. It really comes down to what your system is and finding players that fit your system."

The Eagles want versatile, interchangeable parts in Davis' quest to create a mirrored defense where roles are not easily identified by the opposition. (This has a lot to do with why Jenkins was their top free-agent target even with the likes of Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward on the market. ) The "Legion of Boom" they are not, nor are they trying to be. You can argue that's a design flaw, but there's no question that the design is different.

Jenkins and Allen took the majority of the reps with the first team this spring. Earl Wolff has a chance to push Allen, but right now it's the veterans manning the two safety spots.

"It's good --especially at the safety position -- to have two guys who know what they're doing and can communicate," said Jenkins. "There are some times where I could be wrong and Nate can correct me or play off of me. And the good thing is we see coverages and we see offensive formations the same way, so when it comes to calling a defense you don't have one guy saying one thing and the other guy saying something else. We're on the same page, and that's good to have when safeties jell like that."

Jenkins has spent time tutoring Wolff since he arrived in Philly. He also believes that he can help Allen take the next step as the pair tries to stabilize the long-wobbly safety position.

"I've been around other players and other coaches that show you stuff outside of what's in the playbook, you know, that I can read offenses, I can do that," he said. "Nate really hasn't had that person to teach him all of that, so we're kind of going through that now: alright, we've got the playbook down pat now, as we step out on the field what do we see offenses presenting us, how can we anticipate what's coming, and then play our technique from there?

"So, I think it might be just a little more experience but he's a capable starter and he's done it for a while."

It appears that the Eagles have upgraded the position overall, but it's yet to be seen whether this approach and personnel group will finally change the team's fortunes at safety.

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  • Token

    All this sounds like Wolff is kind of out of their minds. I said I think Wolff sitting out so long last year after he was cleared to play really rubbed Chip and the staff the wrong way. Nothing has changed my mind on that.

    • Joe L

      Well Allen is still only on a 1 year deal, and there’s really no one else in the fold to to take over in 2015 if Nate Allen plays like Nate Allen.

    • Jernst

      Agreed…I forgot who mentioned it, but it seemed like there were players and coaches that thought Wolff was being a little soft.

      • sprawl

        Actually Billy Davis seemed to imply they didn’t want to shatter the confidence of their younger guys by throwing them out there in a position where they weren’t setup for success.

        If Wolff wasn’t playing at 100% it’s a lot different to play him over a starter than to put a guy like Roc Carmichael in when your CBs actually get injured.

    • travis papa

      I agree I still believe that Nate Allen can take another step forward this yr with all the continuity he finally has. Plus he has another vet to teach him and take the pressure off of him as being the QB back there. Let Jenkins read the offense and set the coverage he just focuses on his job. Keep it simple stupid.

      • Token

        How many years have people been waiting for Nate Allen to take all these steps forward? It very rarely happens this late in a career. He is what he is.

        • peteike

          exactly, too much blind faith at times from fans.

      • Ben

        If you have been following the Eagles then you know they just switched their defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so last year was our “learning how to play in the scheme year”, and year two you should see a more cohesive unit and as far as waiting for Nate, he is also new to this scheme so he can get better too.
        I think Chip has brought a new attitude to this team and new philosophy as well. In fact, there are so many new changes that now that they know what Chip wants, you can say they will be better prepared this season than last. We finished 10-6 and won our division.
        We did that in a “learning year”. Imagine what we do this season.
        If I were uninformed, I would be just as negative as you guys but I have have been paying close attention and notice change.

    • JofreyRice

      yeah, it’s weird that Nate Allen–that they let go test free agency for as long as he could, where he didn’t get any suitors–comes back and is the favorite to start. I thought Wolff looked pretty decent at times, flashed some instincts to move towards the play as it was developing. Agree that injury situation was weird.

    • DoctorRick

      Good observation , Token. So are they wrong or is the coaching staff seeing something that we are not? Is it physicalities such as height and weight? Or real time adaptations like distance and movement? Or cognitive things like distance and spacing? I can’t tell but Wolff is a challenge to understand in terms of play, and he did not rock the boat during OTAs.
      What is the best understanding we can come to??

  • mtn_green

    The big worry on versatility is that there is no one thing that they are great at. Both can be beat in coverage and in the box.

    Disguising coverages with versatile players only gets you so far. The safeties still have to make the tackle or beat out a TE or wr for the ball.

    Sure they can switch roles and confuse the QB but can they cover a TE or stop a RB that makes it through the line? Not sure.

    • Show And Prove

      @mtn_green:disqus I have the same worries. That playoff game against the Saints has plenty of evidence that would support your point. So would other games, but that Saints game is the one that really sticks out to me.

      • mtn_green

        I didn’t rewatch the game to see what Jenkins was doing.

        • Show And Prove

          I meant that more towards your point about not being able to stop RB or TE once they make it through the first line. Saints ran all over the eagles in that game.

    • JofreyRice

      Yeah, I’m really at the show me stage with these guys. Jenkins might be a leader, but he’s been a bum on the field. I watched the Saints play the Seahawks twice, and Jenkins really stood out in the wrong way. And he’s supposed to be the upgrade.

      We’ll have to see how this all shakes out. I’m very skeptical that the safety play is going to be much better. “Scheme fit” or not, they missed a huge opportunity to upgrade in FA.

      • Token

        Um, im saying nothing that should be blocked. But it wont let me post without it getting approved and then it gets deleted. The gist of the post was that we dont have a elite DC to rely on that makes me feel comfortable with all these “versatile” guys. Tho my post that got deleted said it better.

      • Reasonableeaglefan

        Couldn’t he be both? A bum and an upgrade? But seriously, I was having a similar discussion about the OLBs. Either they can get after the QB or they can’t. Disguise only goes so far.

      • shady25

        Let’s not forget Jenkins is a converted CB to safety. So I get the whole bad tackling thing. These guys aren’t going to lay the wood on people, but as long as they wrap up and hold on til the calvary arrives I am cool with that. If they were looking to draft Clinton-Dix like reports have said then it must be true that they want the versatile guy and not a box guy. I can see this working both ways. I think Billy Davis wants to stay in his base defense without getting caught off guard with offensive personnel changes.

    • Sconces

      Jenkins is known for his man coverage ability…

    • paul from nc

      I agree. Versatility is the new buzz word and everybody is jumping on it. But, as you said, it means there is tradeoff somewhere.
      The old word was “high Motor guy”. That usually meant he tried hard all the time, but didn’t have a lot of talent.

  • Mr. Wu

    I got a bad feeling about this

    • DoctorRick

      Why You Wu feel bad Ju ju?

  • PaoliBulldog

    For Jenkins to still have trouble tackling at this stage of his career is pretty lame. Considering how badly CK/HR whiffed on Chung last year, I’m not drinking the Kool Aid right now.

  • shady25

    Nate Allen was thrown into the fire as a rookie. He had Quintin Mikell but that was it. Mikell was taught from the best so I’m pretty sure he had plenty of knowledge to pass on to Nate Allen. If Jenkins can rub off on him and Wolff and teach them intangibles outside of the playbook then our safeties should be a hell of a lot better by mid season. Busted plays like the VIkings and Saints game won’t happen anymore. I am really excited to see this defense grow together in year 2. Gotta keep these guys together. Cox, Kendricks, Boykin, Thornton

  • SoCalEaglesFan

    Jack of all trades usually means master of none. Yep. You said it Tim. One can argue design flaw, and I would suggest that is exactly what we might be witnessing. And not just at the safety position.

    • DoctorRick

      Prolly not.

      • Jesse

        i dont think thats true at all

    • Ben

      I dunno what your talkin about. Ever Since Chip came to town these Eagles have been steadily improving all aspects of their game.
      There is no design flaw, it’s actually a streamlined new and improved team from top to bottom.
      Our offense can score with the very best at this point so what are you saying?
      This is the second year in the 3-4 and we saw some flashes last season which should carry over to this season.
      We are on the cusp of greatness and you wanna talk design flaws.
      Ohhhh….the misinformed.

  • MattE

    These are the “Manning Rules”.

    Chip is an outside of the box kind of a guy in the perfect sport for that kind of thinking, i just hope Davis can bring to fruition schematically what Kelly sees conceptually.

    • DoctorRick

      I think Davis is “all in” as well.

      All In

    • Maggie

      Whatever it takes.

  • paul from nc

    I don’t understand what Allen and Jenkins are saying. Whatever design you’re in, isn’t tackling the same? I understand you may be out of position, but that doesn’t count as a missed tackle. When you can make the play, you need to tackle,. No matter what the coverage is.
    And the Eagles have been poor at it the past 3 years. At least Namdi and DRC are gone and maybe this newer group (Wolff, Allen and Jenkins) can be taught to wrap up and tackle.

    • EaglesFanInPhx

      I’d venture to say your average WR is easier to tackle than your average TE/RB. So if the scheme changes so that they tackle more WRs than TE/RBs than it’s quite possible to get a better missed tackle % due to scheme.

    • DoctorRick

      Good point. “Howevah” tackling is not universally emphasized and is a learned skill. What I read here is that they know they have to not just prevent but tackle the snot of the receiver if caught. Just my read.

  • EaglefaninAZ

    D improved last year over the year before. If they improve this year over last, I’m good. Kids… we’re gonna average 40+ points a game. What the heck is everyone worried about? :-D

  • HowieGambleChipsAllDay

    Food for thought….. During their ENTIRE 2013 post-season run, the Seahawks committed ZERO (0-pronounced-NONE) penalties for illegal helmet contact, or any other tackling infraction at all. Not one! Think back to the SuperBowl….I for one have never seen a defense beat up another team as badly as Seattle beat up the Broncos that day…. And they did all their damage with in the confines of the rule book. Devastating without being dirty.

    After the game, Kam Chancellor attributed their tackling prowess to the fact that Pete Carroll holds “Tackling Tuesday” every single week during the season, where the focus is proper, form tackling. This being a copycat league, in the era of hypersensitivity to head trauma, “Tackling Tuesday” should probably become a league mandated practice. It should definitely be a Philadelphia practice.

    • DoctorRick

      Nice!

    • Brian Zee

      This ^

    • Chris

      Probably more effective than Taco Tuesday! I like it

    • Maggie

      Excellent, although it would have to be Tackling Thursday for the Eagles.

  • A_T_G

    “”I’ve been around other players and other coaches that show you stuff outside of what’s in the playbook…”

    So, bounties are back?

  • DoctorRick

    Really good article,Tim. I think that both Nate Allen and Malcolm Jenkins are smart guys who know that improving physical play is important. I like our look. They are all in.

    PS My new Avatar is a 1960 helmet, which is when I started being an Eagle at age 9 because “I liked the helmets.” About right thinking for a 9 year old to recognize quality, don’t you think?

    • NCBiRDMann22

      Bring back the Kelly Green!

    • NCBiRDMann22

      Bring back the Kelly Green Uniforms!

  • ChandlerMc

    Based solely on his play at Louisville, I badly wanted Calvin Pryor in the draft. But Rex snatched him up. It seems he’s not the “versatile” safety the Eagles covet but man can that dude hit. Anyway I do think safety play will be improved this year. With another year to master the system, along with the Jenkins addition (and Chung subtraction), our safeties should be in the correct position more often than not. Hopefully we’ll see much less of Cary Williams pointing and yelling when an opposing WR glides into the end zone unmolested.

  • http://www.phillymag.com/ Philadelphia Magazine

    And, yes, the system moderated me too.