A.J. Jefferson has an eventful debut with Seahawks

Posted Aug 8, 2014

A.J. Jefferson left the locker room Thursday with a sprained ankle, but what the veteran cornerback did before that in the Seahawks’ preseason opener made for an even more eventful evening.

A.J. Jefferson had an eventful Thursday night.

It started with the veteran cornerback taking the field for the Seahawks’ preseason opener against the Broncos in Denver. It ended with Jefferson leaving the locker room at Sports Authority Field with an ankle he sprained during the Seahawks’ 21-16 loss.

But it’s what happened in between that really mattered for Jefferson.

First, Jefferson had to wait his turn – which was longer than anyone anticipated because of a 45-minute delay in the first quarter when lightning struck too close to the stadium. He had signed with the Seahawks in May – knowing that they had lost cornerback Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond in free agency; but also well aware that they still had All-Pro Richard Sherman, as well as Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon.

“There are some big names in front of me that I’ve got to live up to,” Jefferson acknowledged. “So I’m just going to make a name for myself. But just being a corner, you have to have that mindset that you’re going to make a play when the plays are able to be made.”

Jefferson’s opportunity to do just that didn’t come until late in the third quarter, as the right cornerback in the Seahawks’ No. 3 defense.

On his first play – and first play of note – he was beaten off the line by Broncos rookie wide receiver Cory Latimer. But the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Jefferson used his speed, length and athletic ability to recover and break up the pass. Three plays later, he broke up a Brock Osweiler pass to rookie Bennie Fowler.

“I guess they wanted to see what I was made of, so they kept going at me,” Jefferson said. “I’m just trying to represent Seahawks football how I’m supposed to.”

Then came the play that was the highlight of his night, but also his last play. On the final snap of the quarter, Jefferson intercepted a pass that would set up a Steven Hauschka, giving the Seahawks a 16-14 lead with 11½ minutes left. But at the end of Jefferson’s 11-yard return, someone fell on his ankle.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I think I’ll be alright.”

Asked what happened on his interception, the first thing Jefferson did was laugh.

“They were backed up, so they couldn’t run the ball,” Jefferson said of the Broncos beginning the one-play possession at their 5-yard line, where Terrance Parks had downed a Jon Ryan punt. “I think (Osweiler) was looking for something else and then the tight end ended being open. I saw him kind of late, so I just kind of ran underneath.

“I was kind of a bad pass. It was underthrown. So I was just able to get there before the receiver.”

Eventful, and then some.

But then Jefferson has had an evenful career. He didn’t begin playing football until his junior season at West High School in Bakersfield, Calif. Then it was on to Fresno State, where he led the nation in 2007 with a 35.8-yard average on kickoff returns and started 18 games at cornerback. Despite running the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and also popping a 44-inch vertical leap at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, Jefferson was not drafted and signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie free agent.

He started seven games for the Cardinals in 2011, when he had career-highs in tackles (66) and passes defensed (12, including an interception). But the Cardinals traded him to the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, when he started seven games and had 37 tackles. But the Vikings released him after the 2013 season.

So why the Seahawks? Jefferson said he had other options. But why a team whose secondary goes by the Legion of Boom and features Sherman and the All-Pro safety tandem of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, as well as all those other corners?

“I just kind of wanted to be a part of what was going on here,” he said. “I had some talks with the coaches and I felt it was a good place for me to be. They treat you like a family here, so I’m fitting in really well. The guys treat me like family. So it should be a good season for us. I’m excited.”