In the locker room at Valley Ranch last weekend during the Dallas Cowboys' rookie mini-camp, many of the young newcomers looked a little shellshocked. Most had never seen as many media. All were trying to impress head coach Wade Phillips and owner Jerry Jones, who has owned the Cowboys as long as some of the players have been alive. They got a post-practice speech from Michael Irvin, who had been a star wide receiver for the Cowboys when they were growing up.
But while some stared into TV cameras or pored over their playbooks, two rookies sat in front of neighboring lockers, laughing with each other.
Coaches and players alike usually will say that no position group requires a level of chemistry and comfort between its players like the offensive line. With that in mind, it's possible that undrafted free agents Mike Tepper (6-5, 320) and Chet Teofilo (6-4, 309) could have a leg up on other offensive line hopefuls in the pursuit of a roster spot.
Tepper and Teofilo were teammates at the University of California, Tepper at left tackle and Teofilo at both guard positions. They were roommates on the Golden Bears' road trips. They're close, but when their names weren't called during the NFL Draft, they never plotted to sign as free agents with the same team.
"Chet and I had zero conversations about where we were going," Tepper said. "But I'm super-excited to be playing with him again." (Teofilo and Tepper are two of three former Golden Bears trying to make the Dallas roster as rookies: wide receiver Verran Tucker also played at Cal.)
Teofilo and Tepper each had other options.
"For me, I saw this as the best opportunity to make the team," Tepper said. "I saw it as the best fit."
Tepper isn't the only one who thinks he has a chance; owner Jerry Jones interrupted a post-workout briefing with the press to mention that "there are a couple of offensive linemen here who might be able to help us. Here's one right now," he said, slapping Tepper on the shoulder pad as he walked by.
Teofilo said he chose Dallas because of the Cowboys' history of developing offensive linemen who were drafted late or signed as undrafted free agents, and said his versatility should help him in his pursuit of a roster spot.
"I can play any of the interior line spots," Teofilo said. "I played both guard spots and both tackle spots at Cal, and I can play center, too, if they need me to."
Tepper was granted a sixth year of eligibility at Cal after he was unable to play in 2005 because of a broken fibula he suffered when he was hit by a car, and then missed the 2008 season because of a pectoral injury.
Healthy again, Tepper played in 13 games for the Golden Bears last season, and like Teofilo, said his versatility should help him, as well.
"I can play both tackle positions," he said. "I'll play wherever they ask me to — I'll even kick. Don't laugh — I played soccer for 10 years. I can walk outside right now and hit a 40-yard field goal."
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