Dolphins coach Nick Saban wasn't going to let Jason Allen get away again.
The Dolphins used their first-round selection in Saturday's NFL Draft on Allen, a highly touted University of Tennessee defensive back whose history with Saban dates back to high school.
Saban chose Allen at No. 16 even though he admitted the Dolphins' secondary wasn't a "pressing priority" after the offseason signing of four free-agent defensive backs. Saban also said the team was comfortable with Allen's medical history, which includes a dislocated left hip in 2005 and two earlier shoulder surgeries.
"We took the quality player, the long-term value to the organization," Saban said. "It was not picked based on need, although we think it can fit very nicely for us because of the diversity the player has."
Regarded as a quality tackler with excellent coverage skills, Allen could immediately compete with Yeremiah Bell and Deke Cooper to start at free safety. Saban, though, said Allen's exact role in the secondary as a safety or cornerback will be more clearly defined after his participation in next weekend's rookie minicamp.
"That's the perfect scenario for me," said Allen, who started 14 games at cornerback and 12 at free safety during four seasons at Tennessee. "That's what I'm looking forward to doing, moving all over the secondary."
Saban said the Dolphins declined the chance to trade down from No. 16 because he didn't receive an attractive enough offer to risk losing Allen. Saban said he contemplated trading up to select Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata but ultimately decided the asking price of a third-round draft choice was too costly. Ngata was chosen at No. 12 by Baltimore, which moved up one spot by sending its first- and sixth-round picks to the Browns.
The Dolphins, who didn't have a second-round pick because of last month's trade with Minnesota to acquire quarterback Daunte Culpepper, chose Arizona State wide receiver Derek Hagan in the third round with the No. 82 overall pick.
Saban unsuccessfully tried recruiting Allen in 2001 while coaching at Louisiana State. Allen, who had attended some of Saban's summer camps as a standout high school running back, said he chose Tennessee because of a concern that ultimately proved true: Saban wouldn't be coaching at LSU for the duration of his college career.
Allen, though, said he respected Saban because he was the only interested college coach to project him exclusively as a defensive back. Allen initially fluctuated between wide receiver and defensive back at Tennessee before settling on the latter position as a freshman.
"He's a defensive back guru," Allen said of Saban. "I felt he could be one of the coaches that could make me an elite college football player. I just took a little different route going to Tennessee.
"But now I'm in a situation where I'm blessed in Miami. I can see Coach Saban every day and he can develop me into an elite NFL defensive back."
One of the most memorable plays in Allen's college career came in October 2004 when his helmet flew off as he was steamrolled by Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown, who is now one of his Dolphins teammates. But the 6-foot, 209-pound Allen bounced back to set a school single-season tackling record for defensive backs with 123 and earn third-team All-America honors.
Allen entered last year's draft as a junior but quickly changed his mind after deciding he wanted more college experience. Allen was allowed to return to Tennessee because he hadn't signed with an agent or violated any NCAA rules.
Allen, though, had his NFL future jeopardized when his hip was dislocated last October on a block by Georgia tight end Leonard Pope. The injury was similar to one suffered in 2002 by Kansas City running back Priest Holmes, who rebounded to rush for an NFL-record 27 touchdowns the following season.
Allen's recovery also is going smoothly. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and later impressed during a private pre-draft workout for the Dolphins in Knoxville.
Allen said his "heart just fell to the floor" after receiving a congratulatory call from the Dolphins while attending a draft-day party in his hometown of Muscle Shoals, Ala.
"I didn't know how teams felt about me with my hip injury and where I'm going to be at," said Allen, who was the fourth defensive back chosen overall. "I was determined to come back better than ever."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times