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Chandler Jones And Justin Pugh Reunite

Posted May 8, 2018

NFL standouts have come a long way since meeting at Syracuse

Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones (left) and guard Justin Pugh are back together in the NFL.

On the first morning of offseason workouts last month, reigning NFL sack king Chandler Jones walked into the Cardinals’ facility and laid eyes on a long-lost friend.

Justin Pugh was one of the team’s marquee free agent signings in March, and while Jones was excited for the addition of a talented piece to the roster, he was giddier about a personal reunion a half-decade in the making.

Jones made a beeline for Pugh and wrapped his former Syracuse teammate in a hug.

“My face lit up,” Jones said. “That was my first time seeing him in Arizona.”

At this point in their careers, Pugh and Jones are expertly molded pieces of art. Jones led the NFL in sacks, quarterback hits and tackles for loss in 2017. Pugh battled injuries a season ago, but when on the field, he’s proven to be one of the better guards in the league.

Together, they are expected to be focal points in the re-tooling of the Cardinals under new coach Steve Wilks. It’s a far cry from when they first met as teenagers in upstate New York -- two lumps of clay sitting on a pottery wheel, still waiting to be formed.

“Me and Chandler didn’t know how good we were in college,” Pugh said. “We were both two-star recruits. Chandler weighed about a buck-20 when he came to Syracuse. I was out of shape. They called me ‘Pugh-ny.’

“Me and Chandler battled for four years not knowing how good we were.”

Some prospects can slide through the cracks in colder-weather areas, because they don’t have as many opportunities to showcase and fine-tune their abilities. That may be why there wasn’t a ton of recruiting interest for Jones, an Endicott, New York native, or Pugh, a product of Holland, Pennsylvania.

But it didn’t take long for them to make an impression with the Orange. Scott Shafer became the team’s defensive coordinator under Doug Marrone in 2009. Pugh joined the team that fall, while Jones was looking for playing time after redshirting as a freshman.

Shafer vividly recalls the epic practice battles between the pair.

“Justin would hammer him in the run game, and then Chandler would run by him in the pass game,” said Shafer, now the defensive coordinator for Middle Tennessee State. “I can remember coaching the secondary and just looking over my shoulder during one-on-one stuff. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do down there.’ It was a lot of fun. It really was.”

As their careers progressed, the accolades began to roll in. Suddenly, the overlooked recruits were garnering NFL buzz. One day, after another long line of scouts made their way to Syracuse, a pact was made.

“You’re going to go first round,” Jones told Pugh. “I’m going to go first round. We’ll call each other the First Round Boys. FRB.”

Jones made the leap first. He left Syracuse after his junior season and was drafted No. 21 overall by the Patriots in 2012. One year later, Pugh topped Jones, going No. 19 to the Giants.

“He’s always pushing that in my face,” Jones said.

The lives of Pugh and Jones are much different from when they met as unproven college kids. They have both moved West and are getting paid handsomely for their football services.

But some things remain the same. They are hoping to lead the Cardinals to success in 2018, and Jones is hoping to mooch meals off Pugh, just like the good old days.

“He was my neighbor,” Jones said. “He was roommate with another kid named Zack Chibane. They were big chefs. They were always on the grill. I’d always come over and eat their food all the time. Hopefully we can do that again.”

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