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Keenan Allen continues to be money

August 10, 2016 GMT

You go to Chargers practice now expecting to be wowed by Keenan Allen.

You know he will run routes that would pass military inspection. He will get open when it seems he can’t possibly. He will catch virtually every pass thrown his way, some of them seemingly with the help of special effects.

Allen’s ascension is not just one of the most important components to this Chargers season, it is one of the most impressive feats by a Chargers player in recent memory.

Allen is a man now. And that’s more important than him being the man, because it means he grew up and intends to stay that way.

He played not just to get paid. His commitment was about more than $45 million over four years. It was about becoming what he’d always been and what he knew he could be.

“I’ve been playing football since I was six,” Allen said Tuesday after the Chargers’ morning practice. “I’ve always been the best. To get here and not be the best person on the team anymore, it made no sense. To just be another player, it just makes no sense. I decided I might as well do what I’ve always done.”

Allen was talking about his growth from a rookie season in which he was often as lost as he was spectacular.

He became the 15th rookie in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving yards. At least half of his eight touchdowns made you blink and shake your head.

But his inconsistency was maddening. Veterans fumed at times over his practice and study habits. Nothing angers a veteran like seeing wasted talent.

Allen used words Tuesday like “embarrassing” and “frustrating” when recalling the 2013 campaign.

“My confidence was going down,” he said, shaking his head at the memory of Philip Rivers yelling at him time and again when he was lined up wrong or ran to the wrong spot in games.

Even early in 2014, Allen was talking a better game than he played or practiced.

And, then, seemingly suddenly, but really after so much prodding by veterans like Antonio Gates, Ronnie Brown and Le’Ron McClain, Allen went from a project to an example.

“He had to learn how to be a pro,” Rivers said Tuesday.

This sounds simple. But it is not. Not for everyone.

All around the league are players whose commitment level never rises to their talent level.

It’s a credit to the players and coaches who mentored Allen. Mostly, it’s a credit to Allen.

Think about it. Allen was so good that he caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns his first year in the NFL – while pretty much having no clue what he was doing.

Ask yourself if you would rest on that kind of ability. And then, even if you mustered enough discipline to show your bosses you deserved the big bucks, ask yourself if would you keep striving after the first check arrived.

Whatever you think you would do, the fact is plenty of NFL players have performed long enough to get a new contract and then showed up fat and/or unmotivated.

Allen, who in June signed a four-year deal that included $20 million guaranteed, is neither. He’s playing faster, sharper. That is all the more remarkable given the wonder over his commitment as recently as two summer ago.

A kid who almost quit his rookie training camp is now having this said of him by the ridiculously competitive Rivers: “He’s a competitor. He fits in with those of us who have been around a while and love to compete.”

It’s striking to the point of making you wonder what is possible for Allen going forward. Like maybe this is just the beginning for a guy who has played in just 37 games and turned 24 in April.

Allen’s touchdown reception on the final play of the first half in Baltimore last season was his final catch of 2015, as he suffered a lacerated kidney. It was also his 67th reception, third-most in NFL history through the first eight games of a season.

Asked Tuesday if he could maintain that for an entire season, he didn’t hesitate. In fact, he answered nonchalantly, as if it was a given.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “For a full career.”

That you know what you’re getting from Allen now, that he looks so good day after day, makes that believable.