Devon Allen understood when he made the commitment to tackle this endeavor, to be a two-sport athlete at the very highest level after a six-year pause, that it would be difficult. Extremely so. Going from the scene of world-class track and field where Allen has been an Olympic hurdler and one of the best on the planet in the 110-meter hurdles to trying to make an NFL roster is, ummmmmm, challenging.
"The transition, I would say, is going well. It's definitely hard – I didn't expect it not to be hard," Allen said on Saturday after practice. "It's been about five years since I played and obviously everybody in the NFL is the best player on their team, so it's really competitive, which is great. I've got a lot of good receivers on the offense that I can learn from even when I'm not taking reps, so that's kind of my goal and my key now, to learn the offense for one and to take as much information in as I can to learn and get better.
"I think my upside is probably high just because I haven't done it in so long I can probably get a lot better pretty quick."
Allen has been an Eagle since the team saw him at Oregon's Pro Day in the pre-NFL Draft spring and was impressed enough by his workout to take a – pun intended – flier on a guy who hasn'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 pulled up after suffering what turned out to be a torn ACL in his left knee.
After a full recovery, Allen devoted himself to track and field and became one of the fastest anywhere, anytime in the 110-meter hurdles. A three-time United States Champion in the event, Allen finished fifth in the 2016 Olympics and fourth in the 2020 Olympics. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Allen competed in the World Championships, where he was disqualified for a false start – a controversial call equating him to leaving the blocks 1/1,000th of a second too early.
The disappointment was significant for a couple of days but Allen had only a week or so before he turned his attention to the Eagles and taking the extremely difficult steps toward making the team. Allen says he has to learn "how to be a receiver again and play the position" after being away from the game for so long. He's fast, yeah, but there is a whole lot more to playing wide receiver – and playing special teams, for that matter – than just being one of the world's fastest men.
"The nuances are much different than college and it's been so long since I've played, right, that I have to remember the intensity and the tempo that all the coaches want in practice and how to practice and how to get a good rep even if we're just in helmets or just in shells and then getting all the walkthrough reps I can," Allen said. "Learning the offense is the biggest thing. Just the intensity is a lot different. It's good on good every play, no matter ones, twos, threes. It's really fun and competitive and it's not easy for sure."
Allen said he made the commitment back in 2016 that someday he would give football another go after trying to be the best in the world in the 110-meter hurdles. He said it over and over and over again on Saturday: The toughest thing is learning how to play wide receiver at the highest level of the game. He explained his goals this way: He wants to make the team, contribute to the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, and then take a few weeks off and get back into hurdling.
He has big goals for both spots. Allen's explosiveness is obvious when he's hurdling and that helps him as he transitions to the football field. A wide receiver has to be explosive, of course, but there is also the need to create separation with precise route running and the use of a player's hands and body. In a sense, Allen is a project of the highest order. He still has the belief that he has the talent to be an Olympic champion someday, but right now the focus is football. Allen says he wants to give the NFL "a good go" and that this jaunt is not a "one-and-done thing." Allen, though, is realistic: He is in a room with talented players who have been working at their craft daily for years.
The question is whether Allen can put it all together in the course of the next five weeks or so and impress the Eagles enough to gain an invite into 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. "That doesn't mean a lot. There are a lot more things that need to happen to be an NFL football player – mental side, physical. So, that's something I'm learning now and hopefully I can figure that out in the next five weeks and give myself the best opportunity. It's only been three days of true practice as well and I feel I've gotten exponentially better in every practice and way more comfortable and getting more reps and understanding the system, understanding what the coaches want from us as receivers."