Jim Dray owes NFL career to Jim Harbaugh

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona tight end Jim Dray has carved out a nice career for himself.

In his fourth season out of Stanford, Dray is having his best year yet. Through five games he’s already set a career-high for catches and is nearing his cumulative yards total from his first three seasons.

But none of it would have been possible without Jim Harbaugh.

Before he was the San Francisco 49ers coach, Harbaugh coached Dray at Stanford. Harbaugh injected new life into the Cardinal football program, which not only allowed Dray to succeed on his way to the NFL, but it helped him get the best care possible for a knee injury that nearly derailed his career.

“The people that he brought in in terms of medical staff and rehab and training and everything, the way they game-planned my rehab, and handled my whole knee situation I’m sure if I was somewhere else or under a different staff I wouldn’t be playing anymore,” Dray said. “He had a huge hand in just the people he brought in. He always wanted the best people around and certainly got them.”

Dray returned to the field the next season and was eventually drafted by the Cardinals in the seventh round in 2010. This will be the fifth time the Dray will face the Harbaugh-led 49ers but it’s the first time with Dray having a significant role.

His 10 catches are three more than the combined total from his first three seasons. And Dray needs 12 more receiving yards to tie his career total of 87.

But without Harbaugh’s vision at Stanford, Dray’s numbers would be a whole bunch of zeroes.

“With some players, you wonder if they will make it back from an injury, especially a devastating injury like Jimmy had ... Whether they’ll be able to have the mental toughness to go through the grueling rehab,” Harbaugh said. “But, with Jim, no, I never did. I never wondered about that or was surprised that he made it back and he’s playing in the NFL now. I just knew him and knew his makeup and knew that he would whip that adversity, stare it in the face and whip its butt.

“I knew that was coming.”