Devon Allen is used to competing in front of packed stadiums all over the world and with millions of people watching on TV.
His athletic career these days is a little different.
Allen has been on the Eagles’ practice squad since Aug. 31, so he’s been running with the scout team, meeting and studying film with the other receivers, working on his return skills and then just watching on game day.
It’s a new world, but it’s one that Allen loves being a part of.
“It’s been going well,” he said at his locker this week. “I’m pretty happy with my progress after not playing football over the last six years and jumping back into it.
“Training camp was a whirlwind for me and difficult for me, but the last three months I feel a lot more comfortable. I’m starting to feel like my old self, my normal self, so now the goal is to keep improving and getting better so when I do get the opportunity to play I’m ready to go.”
This was never going to be easy.
Before this summer, Allen hadn’t played football since the 2016 season at Oregon, focusing instead on his career as a world-class hurdler. He finished in the top five in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympics in 2016 and 2021 and this past June ran 12.84 in a meet at Randall’s Island in New York, the 3rd-fastest time in world history.
But after the World Championships in Eugene and his disputed false start in the finals, it’s been all football for the 28-year-old Allen.
Even though nobody has seen it.
“Playing football is nothing new to me, because I played football from when I was 5 years old until I was 21, so 16 years and then took five, six years off,” he said. “But 16 years, the game doesn’t change much. Athletes change – everybody’s bigger, faster, stronger, and I get that, but as I matured as an athlete I got bigger, faster, stronger, too.
“The hardest thing for me was to realize, ‘Hey, I belong here,’ and No. 2 for me, once I started feeling more comfortable in training camp, was really diving into the X’s and O’s, that’s something I really needed to work on a lot.
“Really understanding concepts, defenses, coverages, being able to read those on the fly, understanding why we’re running a play, for what reason, what kind of down-and-distance stuff should be going on, what the offensive coordinator and head coach are thinking. So that’s something I’m really focusing on now just so I can get a better feel for the game overall and I think that’s helping a lot too on the field because I don’t have to think as much, I can just go.”
Allen earned a spot on the practice squad with a late run in training camp after that slow start. He made some big tackles on special teams and then reeled in a 55-yard touchdown from Reid Sinnett in the preseason game against the Browns.
Since then, he’s had to measure his progress in his performance at practice, where he works against the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL.
“Initially, it was how many mistakes I made and then I was making less and less mistakes, and now my goal is to really just make the plays when I get the opportunity,” he said. “Which I’m doing a lot of, and I get a lot of opportunities on scout team against one of the best if not the best defenses in the NFL, and I’m capitalizing on that.
“The other thing is just trying to learn from the guys around here what makes each guy on our team a great receiver from (Britain) Covey to Smitty (DeVonta Smith) to A.J. (Brown), Zach Pascal, Quez (Watkins, G-Ward (Greg Ward), (Auden) Tate – everybody has their own skill set that’s made them elite and trying to pull as much as possible from them.
“Like A.J. is really good with down-the-field arm swipes and keeping db’s off him and being physical, Smitty’s really good at the line of scrimmage with his releases, Quez is really good with separation at the top of his breaks, Covey’s really shifty and crafty. For me it’s just being able to take what everybody’s doing really well and try to do that so I can be really well rounded. Not quite doing it as well as all of them but getting better every day.”
Life on the practice squad can be frustrating, but it’s lucrative. Allen will earn $207,000 assuming he remains on the practice squad the rest of the regular season, although any game he’s elevated for would be worth nearly $40,000.
For the sake of comparison, for winning both hurdles races he entered in the European Diamond League over the summer against world-class competition – in Paris and Oslo – he earned a total of $20,000.
So is his future on the football field or on the track?
That remains to be seen.
“I think the No. 1 thing for me is to keep improving as an athlete,” he said. “That means trying to get stronger and faster and keep improving in the weight room and sprinting, stuff like that.
“My No. 1 goal is staying healthy. There’s that old line about the best ability is availability, so keep practicing, stay healthy, and once the season’s over kind of evaluate how I feel and where I am physically and then if I feel like I can get a good (track) season in I’ll do that. And the goal is the same that I’ve had every year – to run fast, break the world record and win all the races I run in. … But I also want to play in the NFL for a few years, so we’ll see.”
Considering he didn’t play one snap of football for five years, Allen has already made it farther than a lot of people expected when he signed with the Eagles in April.
And whatever happens next, he said he’s had a blast being part of a team that’s 12-1 and experiencing the culture that Howie Roseman and Nick Sirianni have built.
“It’s been a great year,” he said. “I love it. I couldn’t ask for a better situation and opportunity than being here.”