Nov. 18, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Former Tennessee defensive back Jason Allen's change of scenery has been a good one.
A year ago, Allen was in the middle of a 7-9 season with the Miami Dolphins. Now, he's playing a big role for the red-hot Houston Texans.
"No question," Allen said. "Right now, we're the No. 1 defense in the NFL. I think we're second in pass defense and No. 5 against the run. We've got a lot of talent and a lot of guys making a lot of plays. We've just got a great all-around team."
They've also got a 7-3 record that leads the AFC South Division by 1½ games over the Tennessee Titans, with a 41-7 victory already in hand over the Titans back on Oct. 23. If the playoffs started today, the Texans would be the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Miami, meanwhile, is 2-7 after an 0-7 start.
"I think the defense we're running in Houston complements my playing style well," said Allen, who is this week's UT Legend of the Game before Saturday's home finale against Vanderbilt (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET). "It gives us an opportunity to make a lot of plays and the coaches do a great job of putting us in position to make those plays.
"We've just got to follow the techniques they are teaching us, and it will put us in position to make those plays."
The six-year pro has been in position to contribute 30 tackles this season and three interceptions in his 10 games played, including three starts.
Allen had three interceptions with each team in 2010 for a career-high total of six.
The Dolphins and then-head coach Nick Saban made Allen their first-round pick and 16th overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft. Allen made 19 starts in 71 career games played for the Dolphins, compiling eight interceptions. He now has six picks in just 17 games for the Texans.
"We've just got to keep it going, continue working hard and preparing and doing the things we've been doing," Allen said. "I like the team and I like where we are headed."
Allen was a two-year Tennessee captain during his 2002-05 playing days, a career cut short when he suffered a dislocated hip in the fifth game of 2005. Allen already had been named All-SEC in 2004 and was tabbed third-team All-American by Associated Press.
"(Defensive tackle) Rashad Moore's father and my father worked together, and we lived about an hour from each other," Allen said. "It was (running back) Corey Larkins, Rashad and me going down to Orlando together. I drove maybe about 15 minutes, and Rashad was getting scared about the way I was driving. He told me to pull over and said, `I'll drive us in.'
"Then when we got there, everybody on the team was making a big deal out of the fact that I was getting bowl travel money and a bowl gift and I was just coming on to the team," he said with a laugh. "That was a big deal."
NCAA rules don't allow mid-term signees to travel like that anymore, but Allen said his time at the Citrus Bowl definitely paid off for him later.
"I remember being at the practices and having a feeling of being overwhelmed, finally putting on a college uniform -- and the orange jersey, at that," Allen said. "Everybody was trying to figure out if I was going to play corner, was I going to play wide receiver or safety. They really didn't know. It was a chance for the coaches and me to figure out where I was going to play, and it was finally decided I was going to be a defensive back."
Upon getting to Knoxville, Allen dived right into the college life.
"I graduated from UT in three years, so it gave me a jump from an academic standpoint and it also allowed me the chance to adjust earlier than other guys who came in during summer or during fall semester," Allen said. "It gave me a jump on everybody and allowed me to adjust to the college lifestyle."
"We started the Alabama game at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and didn't finish until around 10 o'clock that night," he said with a laugh.
That day, Allen tied for a team-high 11 tackles. He blocked a field goal earlier in the game and then put the final exclamation point on the 51-43 thriller by batting down Alabama's fourth-down pass attempt from the 17-yard line.
"Making that final play against Brodie Croyle in the end zone was a big moment for me, especially with it happening in my home state," Allen said.
Two weeks later, Allen again was center stage as the Vols went to Miami.
"I remember winning 10-6 and Derek Tinsley scoring on an end around just before halftime," Allen said. "I know I was a young guy and made several plays in the secondary, made a few tackles -- I was just out there playing ball off my natural instincts."
Allen again had a team-high in tackles with 10 and forced a fumble. But more importantly, he was all over the Miami receivers that afternoon in one of Tennessee's finest defensive performances.
"I was coached very hard by Coach (John) Chavis and Coach (Larry) Slade, and just out there making plays," Allen said. "I remember one play to Kellen Winslow right before halftime, they went deep and I ended up knocking it down. Looking back, I wish I would have intercepted it.
"I remember we broke their (26-game) home winning streak and that was a big win for us. They had beaten us the year before on our Homecoming. I have played in the NFL with guys who were on that Miami team and I always bring up how we came down to Miami and got that win."
"That's the thing about UT, we're a family," he said. "After our playing careers are over, everybody will still be keeping in touch with one another. It's a great feeling knowing the guys still care about you and follow your career."
Allen spends most of his off-seasons these days going back and forth between homes in Miami and Atlanta, but he also enjoys the chance to return to Knoxville. This weekend's visit is extra special.
"I can't wait to come back and see some of my old teammates, see the new guys," Allen said. "I'll be putting my old No. 18 jersey on and being on that field.
"Tennessee was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was a great four years being there in Knoxville and enjoying the fans, the coaching and all the experiences I had there."