Former Oklahoma teammates Jamell Fleming (23), Tony Jefferson (36) and Javon Harris (41) have a laugh as they post for pictures after a recent organized team activity.
In the chaos of the after-draft, all Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris cared about was finding a good spot to try and land an NFL job.
That the 2012 Oklahoma starting safeties would end up in the same place in 2013 – and ostensibly, fighting for what will probably be one job – wasn't what was expected.
"It ended up happening that way, but it was like, 'Let's just do what we did in college, let's help each other and compete every day,' " Harris said. "It's not hard. You're out here to compete. In college it's different. Now, for me, I want to make sure I'm on the top of my game. It's great for us to be out here together, but when it comes down to it, I've got to do what I've got to do."
The two are roommates at the local hotel where the rookies are staying. As defensive backs they attend all the same
meetings and they even have former Oklahoma teammate Jamell Fleming, a cornerback who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2012, in the same room.
"It feels just like college," Jefferson said.
The comfort level is helped in that regard, but it doesn't change the battle Jefferson and Harris have to make the team. The Cardinals have some room at safety after releasing veterans Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes and not bringing back James Sanders. But they have returner Rashad Johnson at free safety and veteran Yeremiah Bell at strong safety, and third-round pick Tyrann Mathieu will have a place on the roster as he learns a new position. That doesn't include special-teams ace Jonathan Amaya or Curtis Taylor, who has experience in the league.
Right now, Jefferson is working strong safety and Harris as free safety, but as Johnson has proven in his time as a Cardinal, the ability to do both is crucial at the back end of the defense, especially when vying for a roster spot.
Jefferson made the most sense as a potential addition. The Cardinals seriously looked at him as a potential pick on the final day of the draft in April and he was a highly sought-after undrafted rookie. But that didn't make it any easier for him when he went unchosen.
Jefferson was just a junior last season for the Sooners, while Harris was a senior and a mentor. Jefferson piled up 119 tackles last season and was once the Big 12's defensive freshman of the year. Injuries took a toll and his play suffered, yet Jefferson still wanted to go pro.
"He said, 'I think I'm going to leave,' and I was like 'Make sure you make the right decision,' " Harris said. "It's a blessing to be here. I told him 'You made the best decision you could make.' "
That didn't make Jefferson's undrafted days any easier.
"Those feelings still kind of haunt me every day," Jefferson said. "But it drives me when I'm out on the field. It was rough for me, the draft, getting calls in the mid-rounds and them saying 'We might get you' and then not getting picked up. I still think about it a little bit but I don't want to. I'm here now and I am making the best of it."
The best right now includes the Oklahoma reunion. Fleming gave both Harris and Jefferson whatever advice he could coming in – stay in your playbook, be ready for the increased speed of the game – and even joked there was a cornerback at Oklahoma ("Sure, Aaron Colvin") who could join the Cards next season to round out an all-Sooner secondary.
"You try to move on with your life and do something different and they come in and it's, 'Hey, they are back with us again,' " Fleming said with a grin. "It's cool. I'm excited. We almost have the whole secondary back there."
Harris and Jefferson wait to see how long that lasts. Jefferson liked coach Bruce Arians' decision to have simultaneous OTA practices to allow the younger players more reps – and therefore, more chances to prove themselves.
It is a long shot both players make the roster, or even one of them. Then again, it was a long shot they would have ended up on the same team in the first place.
"Like you see in the draft," Harris said, "you never know what will happen."