In a two-week period to begin this season, David Allen was cut by the Jaguars, signed to the Jaguars' practice, cut again by the Jaguars, then signed to the active roster and made the team's primary kick-returner. Four months later, Allen is Jaguars Inside Report's Jaguars special teams player of the year.
Jermaine Lewis' season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season provided Allen with the opportunity he needed, and Allen responded with a performance that made him the fourth-ranked AFC punt-returner. Allen averaged 12.0 yards per return, with a long return of 52 yards against the Jets and a 27-yarder that set up the game-winning touchdown in the Jaguars' upset win over Indianapolis. He also had a 28-yard punt return against Tampa Bay in week 13, a 26-yarder against Houston in week 14, and a 48-yarder in the season finale against Atlanta.
"Teams are trying to kick it away from him now, or kick it out of bounds," special teams coordinator Bill Bates said. "I'm glad we've got David."
Allen is one of the holdover players from the Tom Coughlin era. He was signed to the Jaguars' practice squad for the final two weeks of the 2002 season, then allocated to NFL Europe by new coach Jack Del Rio. It was in Europe that Allen's talent emerged, leading the league in all-purpose yards, setting an NFLE record with 915 kickoff-return yards and being named the league special teams player of the year.
"His history is as one of the best kick-return, punt-return guys in college football. What he did in NFL Europe added to his value," Bates said.
But Allen still needed to make his mark in the NFL. He tried and failed with the 49ers in 2001, and then again in the summer of 2002 with the Vikings. At Kansas State, Allen was a record-setting kick-returner and the only player in NCAA history to return punts for touchdowns in three consecutive games.
His chance in the NFL came with the Jaguars this season. He was the perfect fit for a team with a depleted roster, and the Jaguars were the perfect fit for Allen.
"When they released me the second time, I had no idea I'd be coming back. I knew I had a good year in Europe and somebody was going to need a return guy," Allen said of those few days early in the season when it appeared as though he would spend another fall out of football.
In addition to his return skills, which include the team's lead role on kickoff returns, at which Allen produced a 61-yarder this season, he has given reason to believe he can be developed as a third-down back. He made an impressive, five-yard touchdown catch against Baltimore, and a nifty 31-yard grab down the sideline against Miami.
"I think they're trying to fit me in more and more," he said.
"When I went over there (Europe), my mind-set was to be the best player over there. I tried to do everything I could so that once I came back here there was no doubt I belonged in the NFL," he said.
He kept the Jaguars' attention through training camp. Bates was impressed that Allen was able to perform despite a hand injury that required a cast; he proved he could catch the ball.
"I think he's got a bright future. I think he's a quality returner who can continue to improve. He doesn't talk a lot: 'Just tell me what to do and I'll do my best to do it,'" Bates said.
And he has.
Previous special teams players of the year are: Chris Hanson, 2002; Hanson, 2001; Mike Hollis, 2000; Brant Boyer, 1999; Reggie Barlow, 1998; Hollis, 1997; Hollis, 1996; Bryan Barker, 1995.