Brandon Smith and James Nixon know the story by heart.
The near-fabled tale of how an unknown cornerback, who spent most of the 2006 NFL season on the practice squad, tipped the first domino toward his successful NFL career with an impressive performance at a Green Bay Packers’ “Family Night” scrimmage.
That individual was Tramon Williams, the now a 30-year-old veteran who forged a Pro Bowl career for himself after first making the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2007.
It’s only one night, but the importance of leaving a positive first impression during Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t lost on either Smith or Nixon, a pair of undrafted cornerbacks making the conversion from receiver in Green Bay.
Both looked the part on Saturday with each picking off backup quarterback B.J. Coleman during team periods with Nixon taking his back for a 66-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
After picking off Coleman on a corner end-zone lob intended for Jeremy Ross, Smith was immediately congratulated by Williams, who’s currently sidelined with a knee injury.
“I can’t take anything from his accomplishments. In fact, hearing his whole story, it’s inspiring to me,” Smith said. “I’m always trying to get knowledge from him on how he handled things. Tramon is always open to talk. He’s a really talkative guy as far as talking to the young guys, especially me with being a new corner. He’s always harping on me about staying focused.”
Smith, 26, was out of football for two years before earning a contract as a tryout player at the Packers’ May rookie orientation. At 6-foot-1, he’s the tallest cornerback on the roster and trying to cultivate a career for himself following an injury plagued run at Arizona State.
Like Williams, the 25-year-old Nixon spent most of his first year in Green Bay on the practice squad after joining them in September. He played receiver and running back during his first three years at Temple before transferring to California (Pa.) and moving to defense.
“Yes, it shows that I’ve gained a few steps, but I’m not where I want to be,” Nixon said. “Maybe within another year or two. I’m not there yet. I’m still learning everything from formations to what type of routes to expect … It’s still a long shot for me, but the DBs, we’re all working and we’re all close knit, so we all help each other out to get everybody on board.”
Undrafted cornerbacks have had a way of finding the football during the annual scrimmage in recent years. Two years ago, current Oakland cornerback Brandian Ross picked off Aaron Rodgers on the first play from scrimmage for a Pick-6.
Although Williams remains out for the foreseeable future with a knee bruise, he still was happy to see the youngsters follow in he and Ross' footsteps.
“You know what? Most of those guys who come in, they’re aware of the importance of this night,” Williams said. “Obviously, I always tell them my story. That’s how you get the spotlight on you – come out and make a play, a first impression. Those guys did that. I’m glad to see that that still lives on.”
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