BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Alshon Jeffery will look across the line of scrimmage on Sunday and see his college roommate, with whom Jeffery is so close that he served as a groomsman in his wedding.
But this week, Jeffery will not view New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore as any of those. He’s just an opponent in his way of a Super Bowl.
“He’s on the other side,” Jeffery said. “I play for the Eagles.”
One of the most compelling matchups in the Super Bowl will be between the two high-priced free-agent signings on both the Eagles and the Patriots. The Eagles signed Jeffery away from the Chicago Bears on a one-year, $14 million contract before agreeing to a four-year, $52-million contract extension in December. Gilmore left the Buffalo Bills for a five-year, $65-million contract with the Patriots. Both played up to their lofty contracts in the championship games; Jeffery with two touchdowns, Gilmore with a game-clinching pass breakup.
It will be the biggest games in the careers of both 27-year-old, six-year veterans. Gilmore knows Jeffery is a physical receiver with a big catch radius. Jeffery lauded Gilmore’s physicality, long arms, and film study. It will be the first time they’ve matched up against each other since competitive practices at South Carolina.
“A lot of things changed since college,” Jeffery said.
Neither player expected much talking on the field. There hasn’t been much talking this week, either. Gilmore said they haven’t had an extended conversation since the offseason, when they’ll catch up in earnest. For now, there’s little chumminess between them.
“Haven’t talked lately, just trying to focus on the game,” Gilmore said.
“I’m pretty sure he feels the same way,” Jeffery said. “I play for the Eagles, not friends [this week], none of that.”
They’ve known each other since they were two of the top high school recruits in South Carolina in the class of 2009, and both players committed to play for the Gamecocks in the same recruiting class. They were first teammates in a high school all-star game.
“He played quarterback in high school and couldn’t throw the ball,” Jeffery said with a smile.
They developed into top draft prospects at South Carolina and lived together off campus as juniors along with two other future NFL players: the Chargers’ Melvin Ingram and Washington’s D.J. Swearinger.
“We definitely had some good times,” Jeffery said. “We have a lot of good stories, a lot of history.”
“He’s a good roommate,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore took snaps as a wildcat quarterback at South Carolina and he knew which teammate to target. Jeffery caught both Gilmore’s pass completions, although those passes didn’t qualify as a groomsman gift.
Gilmore said Jeffery didn’t have significant groomsman responsibilities, but it’s a sign of their friendship. And whoever plays better – and wins – on Sunday will have bragging rights in the friendship.
The Eagles rely on Jeffery, especially to reach the end zone. He had nine regular-season touchdowns and two postseason scores. The Eagles averaged 35 points when Jeffery scored a touchdown this season, which shows the explosive element he provides. Jeffery and Nick Foles have formed a strong connection in the postseason, with Jeffery catching nine of 10 targets. It came after a catch-less game against Oakland on Christmas night, although Jeffery thought too much was made out of that one game. He said there are no questions if Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown don’t connect on a given game, although Foles said after that game that he knows he must give Jeffery chances even when it might appear Jeffery is covered.
That’s going to factor into the matchup against Gilmore, who is aggressive on the ball with pass break-ups. He’s been hot in the postseason and fits best as an outside cornerback against receivers such as Jeffery. The Eagles could move Jeffery around the formation to try to change the matchups, but look for them to spend most of the game against each other. Look for Gilmore to play physically against Jeffery. That’s what happened in practices during three years in Columbia, S.C., and it will be a key in Minneapolis on Sunday.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Jeffery said. “I can’t wait.”
The Eagles will have a guest speaker address the team on Saturday morning: Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who was Favre’s teammate and backup quarterback in Green Bay, invited Favre to the Eagles’ team meeting.
“I know Brett’s going to be here, he’s got some obligations to do this week,” Pederson said. “He and I stay in touch. We’re great friends. We were teammates together for eight years in Green Bay. I figured since he’s going to be in town, just ask him. It’s really not Saturday night, it’s Saturday morning at the team meeting. So he’s just going to stop by the hotel and visit with the guys Saturday morning.”
Favre, who won Super Bowl XXXI with Pederson, retired in 2010. He was Carson Wentz’s favorite player and his presence will resonate among the players on the Eagles.
“He’s one of the greatest to ever play in the game,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “Just his style of play, his toughness. He’s a true gunslinger. Rocket arm, can throw it from any which angle off his back foot. He can throw it anywhere he wants. And he’s been there, he’s won the big games. Played a lot, a lot of football. Any time you have the opportunity to listen to someone like him speak, it’s huge. I’m excited to listen to the wisdom and knowledge he gives us.”