CB Traye Simmons (Jim Mone/AP)
Although most rookies prefer to be drafted, there are distinct advantages to sliding into the free agent pool. Chief among them is the ability to pick a destination. Corner Traye Simmons took full advantage of his free agency, and as he explains in this interview, found the perfect landing spot in San Diego.
For an interview with U of M defensive backs coach Ronnie Lee, click here.
Traye Simmons (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) arrived at the University of Minnesota in 2008. He spent two seasons as a Golden Gopher, recording 94 tackles and six picks during that span.
His head coach in Minnesota was Tim Brewster, who spent the 2002-2004 seasons coaching tight ends for the San Diego Chargers.
"[Coach Brewster] was very disciplined," Simmons said. "He ran the program as an NFL operation. I think that helped prepare me for what Norv Turner is doing with the Chargers."
The Chargers were hardly Simmons' only option as an undrafted free agent. He could have played for his hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons. He also had offers from the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans.
At the end of the day, San Diego’s offer was too good to pass up.
"I wanted to go to an established winner in the conference," Simmons said. "To be in such a beautiful city and get the chance to show what I can do on the next level, it was a no-brainer for me."
The choice may have been a no-brainer, but that doesn't mean Simmons didn’t put any thought into it. He noticed that the Chargers traded away former Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie in the offseason, and that the team did not draft any cornerbacks.
He realizes he still faces an uphill climb in his quest for a roster spot. Fortunately, there is someone on top of that hill extending a helping hand.
That someone is Paul Oliver, who like Simmons played prep football near Atlanta.
"I grew up watching Paul Oliver," Simmons said. "I really look up to him because he was one of those guys that I looked up to during high school football. He was older than me and when I got there he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes."
Oliver helped Simmons throughout minicamps and OTAs. It was there that Simmons learned to play every rep as if it was his last, knowing he will get limited chances to showcase his skills to the coaching staff. That also means playing mistake-free ball as much as possible.
Additionally, Simmons learned there is no time for being star-struck.
"These are guys I see on TV," said Simmons of his Chargers teammates. "I think I was trying too hard [earlier this offseason], but as time progressed and I got more time on the field I realized these guys are just like me. I have a job to do, so all the stardom went out the window and I just started playing."
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