Devon Allen understood when he pledged to tackle this business, to be a top two-sport athlete after a six-year hiatus, that it would be tough. Extremely so. Going from the world-class track scene where Allen was an Olympic hurdler and one of the best on the planet at 110-meter hurdles to trying to make an NFL roster is, ummmmmmm, a challenge.
“I would say the transition is going well. It’s definitely tough – I didn’t expect it to be tough,” Allen said after practice on Saturday. “It’s been about five years since I played and obviously everyone in the NFL is the best player on their team, so it’s really competitive, which is great. I have a lot of good receivers there. offense that I can learn from even when I’m not doing reps, so that’s kind of my goal and my key now, to learn the offense for one and take as much information as possible to learn and improve.
“I think my advantage is probably high just because I haven’t done it in so long that I can probably improve pretty quickly.”
Allen has been an Eagle since the team saw him at Oregon’s Pro Day in the pre-NFL spring and were impressed enough with his training to take a flyer — pun intended — about a guy who didn’t. played football since his days with the Ducks in 2016. September 17, 2016, to be exact, when Allen was covering a punt against Nebraska and was stopped after suffering what turned out to be a torn ACL in the left knee.
After a full recovery, Allen devoted himself to athletics and became one of the fastest in the 110 meter hurdles. A three-time United States champion in this event, Allen finished fifth at the 2016 Olympics and fourth at the 2020 Olympics. Just a few weeks ago, Allen competed at the World Championships, where he was disqualified for a false start – a controversial decision likening him to leaving blocks 1/1,000th of a second too soon.
The disappointment was significant for a few days, but Allen only had about a week before turning his attention to the Eagles and taking the extremely difficult steps to make the team. Allen says he needs to learn “to get back to being a receiver and playing the position” after being out of the game for so long. He’s fast, yes, but there’s a lot more to playing wide receiver — and special teams, for that matter — than just being one of the fastest men in the world.
“The nuances are very different from college and it’s been so long since I’ve played, hasn’t it, that I have to remember the intensity and pace that all coaches want at training and how to train and how to get a good rep even if we’re just in helmets or just in shells and then getting all the reps in the walkthrough that I can,” Allen said. “Learning to attack is the most important thing. Only the intensity is very different. It’s good every game, no matter one, two, three. It’s really fun and competitive and it’s not easy, that’s for sure.”
Allen said he pledged in 2016 to one day give football another chance after trying to be the best in the world at 110 meters hurdles. He said it over and over again on Saturday: the hardest part is learning to play receiver at the highest level. He explained his goals as follows: He wants to make the team, help the Eagles win the Super Bowl, then take a few weeks off and get back to hurdling.
He has big goals for both spots. Allen’s explosiveness is evident when he clears obstacles and it helps him in his transition to the football field. A wide receiver has to be explosive, of course, but it also has to create separation with a precise route and the use of the player’s hands and body. In a way, Allen is a top notch project. He still believes he has the talent to be an Olympic champion one day, but right now the focus is on football. Allen says he wants to give the NFL “a good shot” and that this getaway isn’t a “one-off thing.” Allen, however, is realistic: he’s in a room with talented players who have been working their craft daily for years.
The question is whether Allen can put it all together in the next five weeks or so and impress the Eagles enough to earn an invite in September and the 2022 NFL season.
“I think, personally, I have the talent, just my physical attributes and my talent, to play in the NFL,” Allen said. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot. There’s a lot more things that have to happen to be an NFL football player – mentally, physically. So that’s something I’m learning now and I hope to figure that out in the next five weeks and give me the best opportunity It’s only been three days of real training as well and I feel like I’ve improved exponentially with every workout and am much more comfortable and that I get more reps and that I understand the system, that I understand what the coaches want from us as receivers.