Hands, body give Simmons chance

Jamarko Simmons, the undrafted rookie receiver from Western Michigan, is absorbing the experience of Donald Driver, James Jones and his mentor, Greg Jennings. The talent that allowed him to break Jennings' records at WMU has been apparent during OTAs.

The ball spirals toward Jamarko Simmons. A blink-of-an-eye moment before the ball gets to him, he raises his hands and the ball disappears. His grip on the ball is so firm that you're thankful he doesn't shake hands with the same power.

At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, the wide receiver from Western Michigan provides an imposing target. As a junior, he hauled in 84 passes, which was nothing compared to his 104 receptions as a senior. Along the way, he riddled the secondaries of college football heavyweights Florida State, West Virginia and Illinois.

All of which meant nothing on draft weekend. What the rest of the league missed are the skills Simmons has been displaying during organized team activities. With his combination of size and better-than-expected quickness, Simmons has beaten the likes of Al Harris and Will Blackmon for receptions.

"I'm learning the offense and really getting a feel for everything with the scheme," Simmons said last week after his first practice running routes at all four receiver positions. "Coaches are doing a good job, and talking to Greg (Jennings), James (Jones) and Drive (Donald Driver), they're really giving me a head's up on where to go and how to make an in cut, out cut. They're very understanding. It's a good atmosphere to be in, because it's good to know you'll get a lot of constructive criticism. I'm enjoying my time right now."

Part of that enjoyment comes from his teammates. Simmons broke Jennings' Western Michigan records for single-season receptions and yards and career receptions. Working against Charles Woodson also has been a thrill.

"Oh, man, just watching those guys on TV growing up, idolizing Charles Woodson — I'm a Michigan guy — it's just a lot of fun," Simmons said. "It's a lot of competitiveness out there. Just being out there knowing that you're going against the best, rising to the occasion just makes you better. I just feel like I'm getting better out there with those guys. I'm just happy to go against those guys. It brings out the best in me."

One reason Simmons chose Green Bay as an undrafted free agent was because of his mentor, Jennings. Jennings said he'd take Simmons under his wing, and he has to an extent, but it has nothing to do with the fact they can hum their college fight song.

"I ask him every once in awhile, because Greg's a teacher to everybody, not just me," Simmons said. "A lot of guys ask him about routes and how they look and how many steps it takes to get to the depth. I go to everybody. It's really an open atmosphere as far as learning. The vets are doing a great job of letting us young guys know the system."

Simmons wears his weight well, and he said he's "probably a little heavier" than the 231 he's listed at on the Packers' official roster. He says the coaches want him down to 225 or 230 for the start of training camp. That still would make him significantly heavier than Jordy Nelson (6-foot-3, 217) and Ruvell Martin (6-4, 220).

His size would make him an attractive target over the middle, where linebackers and hard-hitting safeties lurk like sharks. And it's that size that figures to make Simmons a legitimate challenger for a roster spot. Martin has done well in limited opportunities as the No. 5 receiver the last three seasons, Brett Swain looks much improved over his disappointing rookie season and fellow undrafted Kole Heckendorf also has shined during OTAs.

"Yeah, you do, you do," Simmons said when asked if he feels like he belongs. "Being a rookie, you know what, it's really like you're at the bottom of the totem pole. At the same time, you welcome the atmosphere. it was kind of hard at first coming in, not knowing what you're doing, now knowing where to go, but being here for a few weeks, Coach McCarthy and his staff did a great job of showing us young guys around. I think all of us — I can speak for everybody — everyone is grateful for this position that they're in right now."

And with those strong hands, if Simmons doesn't make the 53-man roster this summer, it won't be because he dropped the ball.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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