Philadelphia Eagles’ Devon Allen Tore His ACL for 3rd Time in December; Still Hoping to Contend for Spot on 2024 Olympic Team
Allen suffered the injury while running a route during a Philadelphia Eagles practiceBy Jonathan Gault
On December 22, two-time Olympic hurdler/Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Devon Allen tore his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while running a route during an Eagles practice. It was the third ACL tear of Allen’s career. Previously, Allen tore his right ACL on the opening kickoff of the 2015 Rose Bowl while playing for the University of Oregon against Florida State. He then tore his left ACL while defending a punt for Oregon against Nebraska in September 2016.
This time Allen said he was running an in route when the injury happened. He also suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain on the play. Allen said he could not pinpoint exactly went wrong on the play in question.
“It really just comes down to the way my body is built,” Allen tells LetsRun.com. “What makes me me is that I apply a lot of force to the ground and sometimes I can’t stop that force as well as I can apply it. And I couldn’t really tell you. The play I that injured my knee on, I’ve done probably 100 times this season, the same route, the same kind of movements.”
Allen was 20 when he suffered his first ACL injury, 21 when he suffered his second, and is 29 now. Each time, he eventually ran faster after the surgery. After the first ACL tear in January 2015, Allen returned to win NCAA and US titles in the 110-meter hurdles in 2016, running a personal best of 13.03 at the Trials before finishing 5th at the Olympic Games in Rio. After the second ACL tear in September 2016, Allen finished 3rd at the US championships in June 2017 and qualified for that summer’s World Championships in London. He lowered his personal best to 12.99 in 2021 and in 2022 ran 12.84 to become the third-fastest hurdler of all time.
“It’s not a death sentence anymore, and every time I’ve come back, I’ve come back faster and stronger,” Allen says. “So that’s kind of what I’m hoping for with this next recovery. Obviously, it’s not ideal. I would prefer not to have to go through rehab again. But hey, that’s sports. Especially at this level, we’re pushing our bodies to the limit pretty much 24/7. And for me even more so because I don’t get a rest. I’m going back-to-back seasons where I’m going track to football, football to track.”
Allen underwent surgery to repair the tendon as well as a frayed meniscus on January 5 at the OrthoArizona Scottsdale Surgery Center. Dr. Brian Shafer performed the surgery. Allen is now three weeks post-surgery and said that compared to his first ACL surgery, he is further along in the rehab process. That time, he also had his meniscus repaired and had to leave the hospital on crutches. This time around, Allen was able to walk out of the hospital.
“I was looking at videos from my rehab and exercises I was doing and how I was moving around,” Allen says. “I feel like my range of motion and strength is probably similar to where I was at eight weeks.”
Currently, Allen is rehabbing in Phoenix under the supervision of his athletic trainer Anna Hartman. Between manual therapy, gym exercises, and Pilates, Allen is spending up to five hours a day on rehab. The focus is currently on reducing swelling and regaining his range of motion. Allen’s goal is to return to jogging and some form of running exercise by 10 weeks post-surgery, at which point he would relocate to Annapolis, Md., to train under his coach Jamie Cook, who is the track coach at the US Naval Academy.
Allen has set himself a target of returning in time to compete at the Prefontaine Classic on May 25 and to make a third Olympic team this summer. The Olympic Trials will be held June 21-30 in Eugene, Ore.
Typically, it takes NFL players between 9 and 12 months to return to action after ACL surgery. Allen admits that competing at Pre — a little less than than six months after his surgery — is an aggressive goal. But he noted that football places a greater demand on the body than hurdling. The sport-specific skills required to return to football, such as decelerating and changing direction, are typically the final pieces of the rehab process. He would not need to have mastered those skills to return to track, where his focus is on sprinting and hurdling in a straight line.
Still, Allen knows it will take a big effort to make it to a third Olympics because no country is deeper in the 110m hurdles than the United States.
“I’ve gotta be realistic, I still have to run 13.1, 13.0, 12.9 to make the Olympic team,” Allen says.
But Allen has a terrific track record at national championships. He won his first appearance at USAs in 2014 as a 19-year-old freshman at Oregon and has finished in the top three in seven of his eight appearances at USAs, including additional victories in 2016 and 2018. The only time Allen failed to finish in the top three was last year when he withdrew before the semifinals due to a calf injury.
Allen has also repeatedly shown an ability to quickly return to top form. Eight months before the 2021 Olympics, Allen had his hip labrum surgically epaired. He wound up making the team and finished 4th in the Olympic final in Tokyo, missing out on a medal by .04 of a second. Last year, Allen’s football season extended all the way until the second week of February because the Eagles made the Super Bowl. He resumed hurdle training on March 10; 11 weeks later he finished 4th at the Rabat Diamond League.
Allen says he would also like to continue playing football once he is healthy again. After initially retiring from football in 2017, he made a comeback five years later, signing with the Eagles and spending the entire 2022 season on the team’s practice squad. In 2023, he was elevated to the active roster for two games, and on September 25 he made his regular-season NFL debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, seeing snaps as a gunner and kick returner on special teams. It was Allen’s first meaningful football game since his final game for the Oregon Ducks on September 17, 2016, and he became the 44th man to compete at an Olympics and play in a regular-season NFL game.
“It was pretty cool,” Allen says. “It was what I had been working towards. My goal is to continue to still continue to get better and have some more meaningful snaps, especially on offense, but after not playing for seven years, I don’t think it’s too bad to get on the field in a live game.”
Practice squad players are often used on the scout team, meaning they try to mimic the offense of that week’s opponent to prepare the first-team defense for the game. Allen says he feels that has helped him improve as a player during his two seasons with the Eagles.
“Practice squad players usually get more reps than any of the guys that are active just because we take every single rep against the first defense,” Allen says. “Especially at receiver. We only have three guys on the practice squad at receiver, so if we’re running a three-receiver set playing a team that passes a lot, then we’re all going to be in every play against the [first-team] defense. That’s great in terms of developing as a player. You’re going against the guys that are going to be playing and starting the game.”
The Eagles placed Allen on the Practice Squad Injured Reserve on December 28, which means they retain his NFL rights for now.
“Until I’m healthy, I’ll be on IR with the Eagles unless they release me or do an injury settlement or something like that,” Allen says.
As for the 2024 track season, Allen knows that going from ACL surgery in January to competing at the Prefontaine Classic in May and Olympic Trials in June is aggressive. But he has a plan in place and trusts himself and his support team to turn that plan into a reality. His history says it would be dangerous to bet against him.
“Obviously we’re pushing the timeline a bit at five and a half months but it’s my full-time job so I think it’s possible,” Allen says. “…With my talent and my ability, I think it’s realistic to do it. If I wasn’t a 12.8 hurdler, it might be pretty tough. If I was on the edge in terms of 13.30s, 13.20s, trying to squeeze my way into an Olympic team, it would definitely be tough. But since my ceiling is probably 12.8, 12.7, I think it’s doable.”