Is Devon Allen the fastest wide receiver in the NFLor the 110 meter hurdler with the best hands?
In the next few months, he hopes to leave little doubt about either.
After spend the entire 2022 NFL season on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squadAllen’s focus has shifted back to the track where he has already recorded the seventh fastest time in the world in his event this year. He will next look to win a fourth career national title at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which begin Thursday in Eugene, Oregon. Then maybe a trip to Budapest for the world track championships, training camp with the Eagles — and, he hopes, another Super Bowl run.
“I still have a lot to achieve in both sports,” Allen said late last month, after a second-place finish at the NYC Grand Prix. “I still have goals (on track) — world championship medals, world records. And then on top of that, to contribute and play football and win a Super Bowl.”
Allen officially turned professional in two sports last spring when he signed a contract with the Eagles after a six-year hiatus from football. But the rhythm of last year’s track program allowed for a clean break from track and transition to football.
This year, for the first time since his college days at Oregon, it’s been a real juggling act.
The Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl extended Allen’s football season, while the start of his track practice was delayed until March. He didn’t run indoors, and his first meet didn’t come until late April at the Penn Relays. The 28-year-old said he spent much of May juggling the two sports – football training four days a week until about
“It’s not ideal in the grand landscape of things,” Allen said, “but it gives me an emphasis on what’s important — being fast, being strong and being healthy. So that’s what I focus on.”
Allen’s hurdling coach Jamie Cook believes football and track are good complements to each other, although he noted some of the technical differences are significant and have taken time to work through.
In football, there is a premium on deceleration and lateral movement, and receivers like Allen are trained to keep a low center of gravity when entering and exiting breaks on their routes. In track, and hurdles specifically, the goal is the complete opposite—to run in a straight line without braking, and to run tall and clear 42-inch obstacles without lowering one’s center of gravity.
“It’s such a specific focus when you’re in football, and obviously such a specific focus when you’re a hurdler,” said Cook, who oversees the track and field program at Navy. “And I think some people don’t really realize that you’re dealing with the best of the best in the world to try to still find a place — to be successful in the NFL and to be successful at the world stage in track and field.”
Allen said many aspects of his return to the track have come naturally. The hardest part has been staying healthy and finding the balance between training and competition; Allen said he’s entered more competitions than he normally would this year in an effort to get up to speed.
“I’m just becoming more of a veteran in the sport and knowing what I need in terms of training, knowing what to do in terms of planning and listening to my body,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you train if you’re injured. If you can’t show up to a meet and compete, it doesn’t matter.”
Despite the late start to his track season, Allen has shown incremental progress. In the six weeks leading up to nationals, he competed at four events, lowering his season’s best by a fraction of a second at each of them, including a time of 13.04 seconds in New York in late June. Only four people in the world has run faster this year. Grant Holloway’s winning time in last summer’s world championship final was 13.03.
“As an elite hurdler, when you hover around the 13-second mark, you put yourself in position to win almost every race,” Cook said. “So we’ve targeted those training numbers and he’s met them really well.”
With a top-three finish later this week, he will earn a trip back to the world championships, where he looked destined to medal last year before being disqualified for a false start in shocking and controversial fashion. Allen left the blocks after the starting gun went off but one-thousandth of a second faster than the minimum allowed reaction time of 0.1 seconds, leaving onlookers like former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III to lament that “he was penalized for be TOO FAST.”
“I’m trying to forget it,” Allen said when asked about the controversial DQ. “It’s like when you have a really bad, traumatic experience, you black out. So I don’t even remember what happened. What are you talking about?”
As well as offering a chance for redemption, however, the next few weeks may also present a dilemma. The Eagles open training camp on July 25, and the 110-meter hurdles final in Budapest (Aug. 21) falls directly between the team’s preseason games against the Cleveland Browns (Aug. 17) and the Indianapolis Colts (Aug. 24).
Allen hasn’t clarified how he will handle the scheduling conflict should he make it to worlds, and Cook said they haven’t talked about it.
What is clear, however, is that Allen has every intention of continuing to pursue a future in both sports.
A two-time Olympian who finished fourth at the 2021 Games in Tokyo, Allen expects to be back in contention for the Olympic podium in Paris next summer. In the meantime, he’ll try to find a role on the Eagles’ 53-man roster, either as a receiver or as a special teams contributor.
When asked if there is a time when he can step away from football and return to his sole focus, Allen said he just couldn’t imagine it.
“The NFL, the athletes there are great. But I’m also a great athlete,” he said. “I belong. I just need to find my role.”