Aaron Beasley will never forget April 24, 1999. That was the day the Jaguars selected Fernando Bryant in the first round of the NFL draft, and Bryant would end up being Beasley's sidekick for the next year and a half. Or was it Beasley who ended up as Bryant's sidekick?
The two cornerbacks for the Jacksonville Jaguars are affectionately known as the Killa B's, but they share more than just a common letter in their last names.
"It's great to have a corner on the other side like him," said Beasley of Bryant. "He inspires me with the energy he brings and as hard as he plays. A guy as small as he is (5-10) is not supposed to hit as hard as he does. He lets you know he is going to come up for every game."
Beasley, the veteran of the two, joined the Jaguars in 1996 when he was drafted in the third round out of West Virginia. Bryant was the fifth defensive back selected; Beasley had to wait for 12 others to be taken before he was chosen. Names like Je'Rod Cherry, Tory James, Fred Thomas, DeRon Jenkins and Dedric Mathis (who is no longer in the league) were snatched up while Beasley awaited his fate.
"Being the 13th defensive back selected was something I looked at when I was being drafted," remarked Beasley. "Like I said, my weakness was my speed, but speed is not everything in this game. I think technique and knowledge may be more important."
Of the first 13 defensive backs drafted in '96, only Beasley, New England's Lawyer Milloy and Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins rank in the top five in career statistics. Beasley ranks fifth in career starts, first in sacks with 7.5, third with seven forced fumbles, third with 12 interceptions and fifth with 222 tackles. And, of the three, Beasley is the only true cover cornerback; Milloy and Dawkins play safety.
One thing Bryant never had to deal with was lack of speed, but he did have to answer the criticism of being a small corner at 5-10 and 180 pounds. His lack of height is not a problem in pass coverage, but in run-support it can be devastating.
"Both of us bring different things to the table, and I think everyone sees that," said Bryant. "Beas is close to 200 pounds, and I'm 180 pounds soaking wet, so we bring different things. I came into the league knowing that would be a question, but when someone tries to question you, you want to work on that. I think last year I was fourth on the team in tackles, and this year I am seeing a lot more of the run. So I need to make the sure tackles."
In the '99 training camp, coach Tom Coughlin had to decide who would be his left corner and who would be his right corner. Beasley had occupied the left spot for a couple of years, but when all was said and done Bryant was manning the left and Beasley was now on the right side.
"I took the left corner spot, but I really didn't take it," Bryant said. "There were three corners battling, and Beas really helped me out a lot. He accepted the fact that I was the number one draft pick, and if I could play they were going to put me on the field. He helped me out a lot. He tutored me, we watched film together, and I think everything worked out for the best."
Beasley saw the switch a little different. "At first, I didn't like it because I played left corner the whole time I had been here, but it was an adjustment that I was used to because I had played both sides in college. I think that was the reason that they did move me, because Fernando was more of a left corner. It helped to fit his needs and it helped the team big-time."
Not only do they complement each other on the playing field, but they get along off the field as well. The two personalities, although different, mold well together.
Said Bryant: "Our relationship is great. You know we're two-one and two-five. We hang together and have fun. We go out and eat every now and then. We have a good relationship."
"We have a great relationship," Beasley said. "It has always been since I was in high school that the defensive backs were the wild and crazy guys. We stick together because we have the toughest job on the field. We don't hang out as much because he doesn't play the video games like I do, but we are still good friends on and off the field."
Beasley, the Jaguars' single-season and career interceptions leader, loves his job and is loud and energetic, but he comes nowhere near his counterpart in the vocal realm. Bryant is the Jaguars' premier trash-talker, and Beasley recalled a time when his young friend opened his mouth too much.
"You know it's bad when you are only playing in the preseason, I think it was against the Atlanta Falcons, and Shawn Jefferson came up to me and told me, 'Tell loud mouth to shut up.' I know I don't talk trash and I heard that one."
Beasley makes up for his lack of trash-talking with his intellect. "I have no weaknesses," he joked as he catches himself with a sarcastic laugh. "I would say my strengths are my knowledge of the game and my instincts."
"Beas has seen a lot of things since he has been here," said Bryant. "He has seen different coordinators and different secondary coaches. He has seen a lot of things with his vision. His field leadership is a strong point for him."
When Dom Capers joined the Jaguars in '99 as the new defensive coordinator, he brought with him an attacking style of defense. He integrated the defensive backs into the blitzing schemes, something that hadn't been done much before in Jacksonville. This past season, Beasley had been the team's leading sacker with five, including back-to-back games with two sacks against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
"Blitzing and sacking means I'm not getting the turnovers and interceptions that I want, but if it helps the team, then I'm all over it," said Beasley of his new role. "It is a team game. It's not about individual stats. If I get a sack, then I have to give credit to the front seven, because they are drawing the attention away from me."
When the former Mountaineer star is in the mix with Tony Brackens, Kevin Hardy and Gary Walker pressuring the quarterback, someone else is left on an island on the opposite side of the field. A lot of corners in the league are given a safety to help double-team the opposing team's top receiver, but Bryant rarely needs help one-on-one.
"I think I am a pure cover-corner," Bryant said of his strength. "I came into the league having played a lot of man-to-man schemes at Alabama, and that is how everything is based on me. I do make the tackles, but I am not as physical. I fought the physical thing last year. As far as just overpowering, I think I need to work on it."
With their different personalities, Beasley is reserved and Bryant is energetic. They have different abilities: Beasley is a seasoned veteran and Bryant is a young star. And they come from different backgrounds. Beasley pumps up with rap and Bryant gets down to the Temptations and Luther Vandross.
And they still can't agree on one thing: Who is the number one cornerback and who is number two?
"I don't know if there is a number one and a number two," said the diplomatic Beasley.