NAPA – Catching up with Nate Allen after a Raiders training camp practice can be a difficult proposition. It’s not due to distaste for the press. He’s a gregarious sort, generous with time when he has it. Allen also has a rigid post-practice routine designed to keep his body right, and it can’t be stopped once it starts.
Snagging him off the field is a smart play. If not, you’re in for a 55-minute wait. On Sunday afternoon, everything was delayed.
Allen was the last Raider off the field, signing autographs in full uniform amid a sweltering 104-degree Napa heat until every last fan had a No. 20 signature to take home.
He eventually came back to the field house and, get this, apologized for the delay.
“Sorry man,” Allen said. “I just can’t say no to the kids.”
One of the newest Raiders hasn’t been hardened by five years in Philadelphia. He made 70 starts for the Eagles, who drafted him No. 37 overall in 2010. That fan base can lavish praise or heavily criticize depending on your play, and Allen experienced a bit of both during his time in Philadelphia.
“If you can survive in Philly and not get caught up in the media and the fans, you can play anywhere,” Allen said. “It was a good experience in Philly, and I know it made me stronger. You have to stay focused on the field, and I’ve gotten good on shutting out all the noise and focusing on football.”
Allen is a vital cog on this team, focused on being a ball hawk. At free safety, he's often the last line of defense. You can find some YouTube clips of him on the chasing end of a deep completion. There should be several more of him coming out of center field to make a big play. That's what the Raiders were looking for when they signed him to a a four-year, $23 million contract with guarantees primarily in the early going.
“The coaches they hired and the guys they brought in really drew me here,” Allen said. “There’s promise in Derek Carr and the offense, which has given all of us real excitement about the immediate future. We’re not building for the future after a 3-13 season. We’re trying to win now.”
Allen wants to be a difference maker in the secondary. He certainly was at times last season. He is fresh off a 2014 season with 62 tackles, four interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble. The 27-year old needs to maintain his solid play and stabilize a secondary vital to defensive success.
“He is the consummate professional,” Raiders defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson said. “Nate is very smart, and puts in a great effort every day. He has the range you want as a safety, and you know he’s going to track the ball well. We need him to play at a high level.”
Allen brings perspective to a Raiders secondary that’s young and unproven at cornerback. Mostly playing free safety, Allen’s presence in the back allows the corners to play aggressive when they have him in support.
He has an experienced position mate in strong safety Charles Woodson, a future Hall of Famer who has seen everything in 18 seasons. Both players have versatility and understand the importance of good communication. That’s created a positive working relationship between veterans.
“We both work both positions, strong safety and free, and we mix it up for the most part,” Woodson said. “The great thing about us is that both of us are veterans in the league and we understand the communication aspect of it, so we’re constantly talking in the back end.
“We might see different things and he may yell over to me and I have to get myself lined up, or I might say something to him if he doesn’t see the right formation or whatever, and we always get ourselves lined up right. It’s great working with a guy like Nate.”
The veterans are interchangeable, but free safety is position he truly enjoys.
“It’s a lot of instinct,” Allen said. “When you’re playing in the center of the field, it takes you back to Pop Warner football, or pickup games in the sandlot. You have responsibility, but you’re playing off of what you see. You can fly around and make plays on the ball. It’s the purest form of football.”