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This was never going to be easy.
And Devon Allen is starting to realize exactly how challenging it is picking up a sport you haven’t played in six years and doing it at the highest level.
“It’s definitely hard,” Allen said after Eagles training camp practice Saturday. “I didn’t expect it not to be hard. … It’s really fun, it’s really competitive, which is great. It’s not easy, for sure.”
Allen is one of the most intriguing undrafted rookies to come through Eagles training camp in years.
Once upon a time a terrific receiver and returner at Oregon, he’s focused the last five years on track and made the Olympic final twice in the 110-meter hurdles.
Hurdling comes easy to Allen. Just six weeks ago, he ran 12.84 in New York, the third-fastest time in world history. Earlier this month, he had the fourth-fastest qualifying time in the semifinals at the World Championships before a controversial false start in the final.
Football? He’s starting at the bottom.
“The (NFL) game is so different,” he said. “I’m starting to realize that now after practice three. Starting to understand the concepts, and the intensity is just way higher.
"Everybody’s fast, everybody’s strong, so now just trying to take advantage of learning new skills and not relying just on my speed to get open and not relying just on my speed to make a play.
“It’s just learning how to practice again, learning how to play again. I think the nuances are much different than college and then it’s been so long since I played I just have to remember the intensity and the tempo that the coaches want in practice and how to practice.”
At Oregon, Allen caught 41 passes for 684 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. He didn’t play as much in 2015 or 2016, but he finished with 17.0 yards per catch and a 26.1 average on kick returns.
But that's ancient history.
We’re three days into training camp, and Allen is understandably behind. He’s going up against cornerbacks with a ton of NFL experience and rookies who were playing big-time football a year ago.
But he expects to make progress in huge leaps the more comfortable he gets.
“It’s really competitive, which is great,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of good receivers I can learn from even when I’m not taking reps. That’s kind of my goal and my key right now, to learn the offense and take as much information in so I can learn to get better.
“Because I think my upside is probably high just because I haven’t done it for so long, I can probably get a lot better really quick. So that’s really the goal, just to get opportunities when I can, take advantage of my reps, take advantage of my reps on special teams as well, because that’s going to be a big part of me making this team.
“Everybody we have is explosive and fast. It’s good that I’m starting with that. Now I just have to learn how to play the position.”
Allen said it took a few days to get over his false start at Worlds, a ruling that research over the past few weeks has indicated a very high likelihood that the timing equipment used by World Athletics at Hayward Field in Eugene was not working properly for the first few events involving starting blocks.
“It seems based on the data there was something off a little bit,” Allen said.
But he said he got over the disappointment quickly. No doubt diving head-first into a new sport helped.
Allen, 27, said he’s not finished with track, but right now football is his focus, and he really wants to give this an honest shot.
“I’d like to give it a good go,” he said. “It’s not a one-and-done thing. This is a commitment from me. As long as I feel comfortable playing and feel like I can play good football, I’ll play.
"There’s a point in everybody’s career where they’re kind of just like, ‘All right, it’s time to go,’ and then that’s the case, but until then, I’m in for the long haul.”
But track will always be there.
There will be another World Championships next year in Budapest, Hungary, and the Paris Olympics are scheduled for 2024.
“It’s still a goal, definitely,” Allen said. “I have the talent to be Olympic champ and with the crappy circumstances of the World Championships, I still believe I would have been World Champion, so I think I definitely have the talent.”
But the immediate challenge is taking place every morning on the grass fields outside the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia, where one of the fastest hurdlers in history is trying to overcome some pretty long odds and become a professional football player.
“It’s only been three days of true practice so far and I feel like I’ve gotten exponentially better with every practice and just way more comfortable, and getting more reps and understanding the system and understanding what the coaches want,” Allen said.
“Personally, I have the talent, just the physical attributes and talent, to play in the NFL. That doesn’t mean a lot. There’s a lot more things that need to happen to be an NFL football player. The mental side and the physical.
"So that’s something I’m learning now. And hopefully I figure it out.”