Allen, Vil­lanueva forge friend­ship

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

Ex­cept for Sun­day, when the Ea­gles en­ter­tain the Steel­ers, de­fen­sive tackle Beau Allen al­ways will have the back of Ale­jan­dro Vil­lanueva, his of­fen­sive coun­ter­part with Pitts­burgh.

Al­ways, un­con­di­tion­ally and if you push aside the ma­cho stuff, Allen will be there emo­tion­ally.

They are best friends for­ever, their re­la­tion­ship formed dur­ing a bru­tally hot off­sea­son in which Allen joined the Ea­gles as a sev­enth-round draft pick out of Wis­con­sin, and Vil­lanueva came on board as a non-tra­di­tional un­drafted rookie. They get to­gether fre­quently in the off­sea­son, some­times to fish, some­times just to talk.

“He has a great story,” Allen said. “He’s played wide re­ceiver, de­fen­sive line and now of­fen­sive line. And I mean, he’s a huge dude. He’s like 6-foot-10. Three tours in the Army. Just an awe­some story. He’s a great guy and I’m ex­cited to play against him this week.”

Allen didn’t re­ally know what a dec­o­rated Army vet­eran was un­til strik­ing up a friend­ship with Vil­lanueva, the Army Ranger, ri­fle pla­toon leader, Bronze Star hon­oree and West Point grad­u­ate. Com­ing off his third tour in Afghanistan, Vil­lanueva was try­ing to make the Birds as a walk-on de­fen­sive end. Think Chip Kelly would like to have that one to do over?

“He would just keep it in per­spec­tive for us with sto­ries of how he was pa­trolling in 130-de­gree heat with just a bot­tle of wa­ter and what­not,” Allen said. “It was just one of those things where you’d be bitch­ing about the heat and he would pipe up and you’d be like, ‘yeah, man, you’re to­tally right.’ He’d just level you. Dur­ing OTAs and that, he would do all his mil­i­tary PT stuff af­ter prac­tice. We would all be ex­hausted and he’d be run­ning lit­er­ally miles be­cause he had to stay in shape to meet all the re­quire­ments of be­ing an Army Ranger.

“Just a hell of a guy, a good friend of mine … I love the guy.”

Vil­lanueva has done a solid job at left of­fen­sive tackle for the Steel­ers, us­ing sheer size and im­prov­ing tech­nique to pro­tect Ben Roeth­lis­berger’s blind­side. The 6-9, 340-pounder is re­lent­less in pass pro­tec­tion and run-block­ing.

“You don’t see them as big as him usu­ally,” said de­fen­sive end Con­nor Bar­win, who takes on Vil­lanueva Sun­day. “I mean, I re­mem­ber go­ing against Bryant McKin­nie back in my day, who was a 6-8, 6-9 guy. Phil Load­holt, who was 6-8, 6-9. (Vil­lanueva) uses his length and height to his ad­van­tage. I went against him in the pre­sea­son. I’m ex­cited to go against him for a whole game.”

Steel­ers head coach Mike Tom­lin first no­ticed Vil­lanueva dur­ing a 2014 pre­sea­son game against the Ea­gles. It was an ‘ahha’ mo­ment as Vil­lanueva joined the other veter­ans in the crowd by salut­ing the flag dur­ing the na­tional an­them. Big Ben is glad Tom­lin dis­cov­ered Vil­lanueva.

“He’s very pas­sion­ate about his job, about keep­ing me up­right,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “Af­ter this last game he came up to me be­fore I even took a pad off and said he was sorry about get­ting me hit on a play. That’s just the way he is. He’s very pas­sion­ate al­most to a fault. He cares so much about pro­tect­ing me and be­ing per­fect. I tell him all the time just keep do­ing what you’re do­ing. You’re do­ing a great job. You’re grow­ing and you’re grow­ing fast. He con­tin­ues to get bet­ter ev­ery week.”

Vil­lanueva has weighed in strongly on NFL player de­mon­stra­tions dur­ing the na­tional an­them. He thinks the protest is mis­guided, that it can be done in some other form.

This week Vil­lanueva will salute the flag dur­ing the an­them while Mal­colm Jenk­ins and two or three other Ea­gles play­ers raise their fists to protest so­cial in­jus­tices. Other Ea­gles, like Allen and Ja­son Peters, will place their hands over the hearts.

Allen doesn’t want to get po­lit­i­cal. It’s just crys­tal clear that he trusts Vil­lanueva as much as Vil­lanueva trusted him while shar­ing sto­ries about some of those pa­trols.

“I’d rather just keep that be­tween the two of us,” Allen said. “He’s been in it. I ap­pre­ci­ate him. He’s a re­ally rea­son­able guy. With all the stuff that’s been go­ing on I’m sure he’s prob­a­bly get­ting hit up a lot about it to talk about it. He’s a friend.”

••• No change in the Ea­gles’ in­jury re­port.

Held out of prac­tice were tight end Zach Zach Ertz (rib), line­backer My­chal Ken­dricks (nose, quadri­ceps), cor­ner­back Leodis McKelvin (ham­string) and cen­ter Isaac Seu­malo (pec­toral).

Ken­dricks would seem to be the like­li­est to play.

Sev­eral banged-up Ea­gles prac­ticed in­clud­ing de­fen­sive end Vinny Curry (knee), Jenk­ins (foot) and safeties Chris Mara­gos (el­bow) and Jaylen Watkins (knee).

Ken­dricks made a pub­lic pitch for a nose guard.

“If there’s any­one out there who wants to part­ner and cre­ate some type of med­i­cal nose mask that co­in­cides with foot­ball, I’m down to be a part of it,” Ken­dricks said. “Any­one out there who is a prod­uct de­signer we can team up and make some­thing.”

••• Brace your­self “Omaha” this Sun­day.

Roeth­lis­berger has been bark­ing it out at times this sea­son dur­ing of­fen­sive se­ries. The “Omaha” call pre­ceded his 20-yard scoring pass to Xavier Grim­ble in the win over the Ben­gals last week.

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