Allen, Villanueva forge friendship
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.