They went against each other in practice at the University of Alabama, one-on-one battles that in many instances were more competitive than gamedays. In those sessions, wide receiver DeVonta Smith and cornerback Trevon Diggs pushed each other, sharpened each other's games, and knew that rep after rep would be a battle.
The reward came when the games began.
In 2019, both Diggs and Smith earned All-SEC recognition as Alabama reached the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Diggs then was taken with the 50th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft while Smith moved on to his epic Heisman Trophy season with the Crimson Tide in 2020.
On Monday night, they reunite on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage.
Diggs has emerged as the Cowboys' top cornerback, registering two interceptions, three passes defensed, and seven tackles in the team's 1-1 start. He is the one the Cowboys designated to follow opponents' top receivers, shadowing Tampa Bay's Mike Evans in Week 1 and the Chargers' Keenan Allen last Sunday. Diggs has allowed just six completions for 91 yards on 12 targets in the two games combined. He also has seven tackles.
"We were kind of close, competing against each other every day," Smith said of his practice time against Diggs. "When you're going against a guy like that every day, you have no choice but to get close because you know you're out there competing, making each other better every day."
Smith noted that two years have passed and that Diggs "sees all the small details" and that Diggs will pick up on any tendencies.
"The mental side of the game," Smith said, "he's picked up a lot. You know how a guy kind of plays, but he's grown a lot. There are a lot of things that he does different now."
The seeds of success now for both players were sown in Tuscaloosa on the practice field where players pushed each other for playing time and it was intense.
"We just competed every day," Diggs said Thursday in Dallas. "I ain't going to say I won all the time. He got me sometimes. I got him sometimes."
Dallas Head Coach Mike McCarthy likes what he's seen from Smith, who has eight receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown, early in his NFL career.
"He's a very polished receiver," McCarthy said in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters. "You recognize the talent and his ability at football and obviously what he did at the University of Alabama, but I really appreciate his route running. He's dynamic with the ball, he's tough. You've seen him scrap there with the run blocking on the second level. He's got a really good release package. He really has the quickness to generate a nice vertical stem. But the way he sticks his routes and the ability to transition out of the release to the breaking point is very impressive for a young player."
Smith is part of a young Eagles' receiving corps that is off to a strong start, with another challenge coming against a much-improved Dallas secondary on Monday night. Asked to assess his performance through two weeks, Smith sounded like a veteran: When the ball comes your way, you have to produce.
He's a young player with a thirst for greatness.
"Just make the most of your opportunities. I had a lot of opportunities last game and I just didn't make the most of them, so when those opportunities are there, you have to make the most of them," said Smith, who had two receptions for 16 yards on seven targets. He also drew two pass interference penalties against the 49ers, who played more man-to-man coverage against the Eagles than did the Week 1 opponent, Atlanta.
Monday, Smith will see a familiar face in Diggs in a different uniform in prime time.
"I'm excited to play," Smith said. "Anytime I can play football and showcase my skills, I'm excited. It's going to be a great game."