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Smaller Chatman Could Make Big Impact


It would be easy to dismiss him, to let him walk right by without a second thought. And if you did so, you wouldn't be the first.

Standing 5-foot-9 with his shoes on, Antonio Chatman doesn't make an awe-inspiring first impression. Not as a potential NFL wide receiver anyway.

Yet the shortest player at the Packers' June mini-camp is in the running to fill one of the team's largest holes: punt returner.

The job is hardly his to lose, as many as six other players also shagged punts this mini-camp. But Chatman believes he can win the job so long as the Packers don't let that unavoidable first impression affect their vision.

"I think a lot of people look past me because of my height," Chatman said after practice Tuesday. "It's kind of hard to get out of it, because a lot of people see me as a small player and not as a playmaker."

In Chatman's thinking, if nothing else, that's what led to his not being drafted out of the University of Cincinnati two years ago. He was quickly picked up by the San Francisco 49ers, only to be waived during training camp.

Chatman responded by joining the Arena Football League, but even there he says he had a hard time finding opportunities to showcase his ability.

"Nobody ever really gave me a shot because I was short," he said. "They didn't see the kid that could run, catch the ball and get up field."

Although a few NFL teams made inquiries after his inaugural AFL season, Chatman, reluctant to relive his San Francisco disappointment, didn't sign.

"I wanted to be here (in the NFL), but I didn't want to rush it," Chatman said. "I wanted to go to a team who wanted me, instead of being a camp body ... I wanted a fair shot."

To get it, Chatman remained in the AFL, suited up with the Chicago Rush and set a league record by accumulating 3,678 all-purpose yards in 18 games as a receiver and return man.

This time when the NFL came calling, he listened, signing with the Packers last week.

Winning a position on the regular season roster won't be easy, Chatman knows, but shorter punt returners aren't without precedent.

Allen Rossum, the Packers' return man from 2000-01, stands only 5-foot-8, and Desmond Howard, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI, was a devastating return threat at 5-foot-10.

That puts Chatman in good company. But the chief obstacle facing this newcomer isn't just to prove that he has ankle-breaking moves as a returner, but to demonstrate that he can use is 4.2 speed to contribute as a receiver as well.

Chatman probably won't be expected to be among the top-four in the unit, but GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman has routinely expressed his hesitance to place on the 45-man roster a player who can contribute at only one position.

But in this area as well, Chatman believes he can meet the mark.

"I came here to play receiver," he said. "If they put me in punt return, that's a plus, too. I want to play receiver more than I want to return, even though I love returns ... Any way I can help the team win, that's what I'll do."

And even if the odds aren't in favor of an AFL player making it in the NFL, Chatman won't let the numbers discourage him.

Those first impressions can be misleading.

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