Skip to main content

Notebook: Raji Working Both Nose, End Positions

For B.J. Raji, playing in a 3-4 defense for the first time may not be as big a culture shock as it is for the big-city kid to be adjusting to small-town Green Bay.

But in the first two days of rookie orientation at the Don Hutson Center, Raji -- who grew up in Bergen County, N.J., near New York City -- is getting a feel for just how different it will be in a 3-4 compared to the 4-3 defense he played at Boston College.

He described how as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 his first step was always up the field to penetrate, while as a nose tackle in a 3-4, his first step is usually laterally while reading the offensive line and reacting to what it's doing.

In the first two workouts, Raji took snaps at both the nose and end positions on the defensive line, which the coaching staff had indicated he would.

"The biggest adjustment is definitely nose, because centers at this level are very athletic to get around," he said. "Being (required) to mirror a center, you're going to be a step late. You need to have athleticism and use your hands to get back into position. You're always going to be a little bit late because you're reading him."

Raji felt most comfortable on Saturday when the coaches added some of the nickel package, because then Raji turns into an inside pass rusher, just like he was on passing downs as a 4-3 defensive tackle.

"There's more up-the-field penetration," he said. "Then we'd switch back to the 3-4, so I'm learning both techniques and using them when it's appropriate.

"I just want to grasp the scheme and try to find my place in the defense, and hopefully I can sort of fit right in when (the veterans) come back."

A leg up

Over the past two seasons, no receiver has been more productive for the Green Bay Packers than Greg Jennings. But while Jennings was making a name for himself in the NFL, his name was being bumped from the Western Michigan record books by another receiver who's now in Green Bay.

Jamarko Simmons, whom the Packers signed as a non-drafted rookie free agent, topped Jennings' WMU single-season marks in 2008, catching 104 passes for 1,276 yards. Those numbers edged Jennings' 2005 stats - 98 receptions for 1,259 yards.

Simmons also finished his career at WMU with 260 catches, better than Jennings' previous school mark of 238.

With production like that, it was a setback to Simmons that he wasn't drafted. Not that he expected to go as high as Jennings did, in the second round in 2006, but he certainly thought someone would select him.

"It was a little disappointing but at the same time I talked to my parents about it, and nothing is ever set in stone," Simmons said. "It's never over. I'm just taking this, being humble with it. I'm just glad Green Bay gave me a shot and I have to run with it right now.

"I'm not coming in mad at the world, but at the same time I have something to prove."

Simmons' career at WMU overlapped with Jennings' by two years - Simmons' redshirt year and his first season playing. He's close to the Jennings family, having gone to the church in Kalamazoo, Mich., where Jennings' father is the pastor, and he considers Jennings like a "god-brother."

{sportsad300}The former teammates spoke earlier this week when Simmons was signed, but they won't actually hit the field together until the OTAs begin in late May.

Thrust into a position group that already includes Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Ruvell Martin, and three other non-drafted free agents, Simmons knows he has his work cut out for him to land a final roster spot. But it won't be hard to find a good example to follow.

"When you look at him, Greg puts in the time," Simmons said. "He's a great guy, a 100 percent good guy. I don't want to step in for him but I want to take after him a little bit.

"It will be very tough. They have a lot of talent out here. But at the same time I compete at a high level, I'm very physical, I have good hands, and I think I can contribute to this team."

In the Hall

Former Packers safety Chuck Cecil, a hard-hitting centerfielder who played five seasons in Green Bay from 1988-92, will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this summer in South Bend, Ind.

A two-time first-team Academic All-America selection, Cecil becomes just the second player from the University of Arizona to make the college hall. He was the Pac-10 defensive back of the year and a consensus All-America in 1987.

The Packers drafted Cecil in the fourth round in 1988. He intercepted 13 passes in his five seasons in Green Bay, leading the team with four in 1992 and tying for the team lead with three in 1991. After leaving Green Bay, he also played for the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Oilers. He's currently the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.

Also in the 18-member 2009 College Football Hall of Fame class (16 players, two coaches) is former Packers defensive tackle Steve McMichael. After 13 seasons with the NFC Central rival Bears, McMichael spent one season (1994) in Green Bay. McMichael was a unanimous first-team All-American from the University of Texas.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.