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Bilal Nichols, Justin Jones Surprised To Find Themselves Cardinals Teammates

Friendship born in Alabama makes its way to Arizona

New defensive linemen Bilal Nichols (left) and Justin Jones on their first trip to the Tempe facility this week.
New defensive linemen Bilal Nichols (left) and Justin Jones on their first trip to the Tempe facility this week.

When Bilal Nichols arrived in Mobile at the 2018 Reese's Senior Bowl, the room was already full of other young collegiate prospects seeking an opportunity in the NFL.

The Delaware product was a late addition to the event, arriving only a few days before the game, while other players already had a couple of days of practice. Recognizing that he had a lot of catch-up to do, Nichols sat down ready to study the playbook.

Then fellow defensive lineman Justin Jones sat down next to Nichols, letting him know he'd do whatever he needed to help Nichols out.

On Monday, Jones gave Nichols a call six years in the making, letting him know they were going to be teammates in Arizona.

"I'm in school with my daughter and I'm like, 'No way,'" Nichols said. "We're going to get a great opportunity to make each other better and make a statement out there. Literally as soon as I walked out of the school, I screamed."

The camaraderie shared in the locker room is Jones' favorite part about playing the game of football. Getting to play alongside his "dog" in Nichols makes his signing with the Cardinals that much sweeter.

"Now the fact that we're on the same team is crazy," Jones said. "It's good to know that you got somebody who has the same exact mindset as you about winning and wanting to play a tough physical game, and make plays, and ball and have fun and celebrate."

Two other Cardinals, linebacker Kyzir White and guard Will Hernandez, also participated in the same Senior Bowl with the pair.

After finishing last in run defense, the Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort prioritized adding players that could improve the unit. While Nichols and Jones might not have been the biggest names on the market, they mesh well into the culture the organization wants to develop.

It takes a special type of player to play defensive tackle. Jones had 100 tackles 7.5 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, and 22 tackles for loss during his two years in Chicago.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Nick Rallis has repeatedly said that he wants the unit to play with a high motor and violence, and that seems to be Jones' style.

"You've got to be a mean SOB," Jones said. "It's a man's game. When we're on that field, you've got to understand, there's people out there with kids, wives, and moms they're taking care of. When we're on that field, this is what it is. Either I eat or you eat -- and I'm not going hungry today."

Adding Nichols and Jones to the line also provides a lot of beef in a room that was undersized and overpowered last season. The duo both stand at 6-foot-3 and weigh more than 300 pounds.

Last season, the unit was on the receiving end of multiple injuries. It isn't a coincidence Ossenfort chose guys like Jones and Nichols, who remained healthy and didn't miss any games the past two seasons.

After signing cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and linebacker Mack Wilson Sr., Ossenfort is constructing a makeover on the defensive side of the ball.

Nichols wants the unit to play with an edge and be the solution to the Cardinals' biggest problem from last year.

"I want us to be known as a very physical defensive line. Stop the run," Nichols said. "That's my goal. I want to bring in a mindset into this organization, our D-Line room. We are the baddest (expletive) walking, point blank period. Nobody out-physicals us. That's just what it is. That's the message I want to pass off to my teammates, to my D-Line mates, and to everybody that I come across in this building. That's the type of mindset we need to have every single day."

The tandem had a conversation while they were at the Senior Bowl about playing together one day in the NFL.

Six years later, it happened.

"We already have a relationship, like it's not going to take much for us to get on track with each other," Nichols said. "That's important. When you're an interior dude playing the position we play, it's nice to know that you got dudes out there that you can go to work with. You got dogs right beside you. That always helps, so I don't think it's going to take much. I think it's going to be pretty smooth."