Cornerback Jimmy Legree participates in offseason work after spending 2014 on the practice squad
NFL games can't get much more non-descript than the final one of the preseason. Starters play one series, at most, and the goal of both coaching staffs is to escape without injury.
For Jimmy Legree last August, it signaled much more.
Legree went undrafted out of South Carolina in 2014, and even as teams picked up a glut of rookie free agents to fill out their 90-man rosters, he couldn't find a home. With his options dwindling, Legree attended a rookie minicamp tryout with the Cardinals in late May, and that's where he caught his break, flashing enough promise to get signed.
He was still mostly a face in the crowd through training camp, until that night in San Diego, when he picked off Chargers quarterback Kellen Clemens.
"I had an interception and I ran it back (68) yards," Legree said. "All the (defensive backs) cam
e around me and it was like, 'Oh, wow.' I wasn't expecting that, because we barely even had a conversation in training camp. I just saw all the love from them. It was like, 'OK, now let's start building (on this).'"
Legree's performance wasn't enough to land him on the active roster, but he did earn a spot on the practice squad for the entire season, which was a nice accomplishment for a player who didn't become a full-time starter in college until his senior year.
Now, he's looking for more.
Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel are locks to make the roster at cornerback, with Alfonzo Dennard likely slotted in as fourth on the depth chart. Not far behind is Legree. If the Cardinals keep five cornerbacks this year – something they did in 2013 – he could be the guy.
"Jimmy had a good OTAs," coach Bruce Arians said. "He got his hands on a couple balls. He's bigger, thicker, this year, and more physical. He's got a good chance."
Legree admits he didn't feel completely comfortable last offseason as a rookie working alongside a crew of established players. The practice squad helped immensely, as he had a chance to sharpen his skills on the scout team against Cardinals starting receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown.
"You get the chance to go against them every day and you have no choice but to get better," Legree said. "You practice with the greats and you've got to become great yourself one day."
As time went on, Legree's rapport grew with the cornerbacks on the active roster. He is comfortable now asking Peterson for advice during practice, or sending a text message to cornerback Jerraud Powers if he doesn't understand a concept.
"When you come in as a rookie, you don't really know anybody," Legree said. "Everybody's looking at you like you're the underdog. Coming in preseason last year and making a few plays, coming in you have to gain and earn their trust. I felt like I've done that. Now they're helping me along the way, which allows me to play faster and make more plays."
When the draft ended in early May, Powers admitted he was a little worried about the depth at his position, but feels better after wrapping up offseason workouts.
"I was a little concerned with the corners as far as when we first started because me, (Bethel) and Pat were the only guys on the roster with any experience," Powers said. "Luckily, we got a good corner in Dennard, and we're still building. Jimmy Legree is having a great offseason. Hopefully he can step up for us."
Legree glows when told of the unsolicited praise from Powers. It's clear how much he values the relationship he's built with Powers and Peterson, the Cardinals' veteran starting duo.
"They've got the big brother role to me right now," Legree said. "It's just all one big family. I'm loving it."
Legree hopes to remain a part of the family into the regular season. He has practice squad eligibility again, but is eyeing a spot on the 53-man roster in 2015.
"That's what everybody's fighting for right now," Legree said. "To even be considered to be in that rotation is a great thing, so whatever I'm doing, I'm doing right."
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