What do zoom etiquette and special teams have in common? The former has TJ Simmons one step ahead in adjusting to life in the NFL while the latter is how he plans to earn his keep with the reigning Super Bowl champs.
The first is something Simmons never thought he needed to learn before last year, but now, he’s glad he did.
“Coach Brown always preached that during quarantine — make sure you face the camera, make sure you have a shirt on, be on time. All those things are coming into play because we do a lot of meetings on zoom,” Simmons, an undrafted free agent with the Buccaneers said. “Now, if you are late to a meeting or miss a meeting, you get fined. Just making sure I’m attentive in the meeting, taking notes. Now when I go to a meeting, I’m not just sitting there looking at the screen, I’m already ready — it’s the look of it. You look like you are professional and ready to go.”
Looking like you belong is half the battle. Finding the place you belong on the team is the more challenging half.
After Pro Day, the receiver was told the feedback from the scouts in attendance included improving his speed, consistency catching the ball, and fine-tuning the little things. What really impressed was Simmons’ ability to block and his leadership and involvement on special teams. That last thing is something the former Mountaineer has taken pride in since high school. He also hopes it’s his ticket to playing time at the next level.
“My high school coach used to say you have to be trusted to be on special teams because special teams can be the difference in the game. Then at Alabama, all I did my freshman year was play on special teams. I had to find my role on the team when there were older guys leading the way at my position,” Simmons said. “Having that role my freshman year helped me realize that special teams is what’s going to help me get into the league.”
For many NFL hopefuls and newcomers, finding a role on special teams is your ticket to securing a spot on the roster. That’s the path Simmons plans to follow in order to see the field on Sundays.
“If I can master special teams, in a couple of years my receiver abilities will be better than they are now so I will have a better opportunity to get in the game at receiver because I am on special teams and traveling to every game,” Simmons said.
But before Simmons can produce on the field, he has to learn the playbook. If he isn’t in meetings or at practice, that’s how he’s spending his free time in the hotel. He has a pretty good grasp on it thus far thanks to working alongside his fellow rookie receivers.
Now, he has yet to have the opportunity to meet quarterback Tom Brady, but when that day comes, he wants to make sure he has done everything in his power to leave a good impression.
“Going to play in the NFL is one thing, but catching passes from Tom Brady is a whole other thing because he’s going to go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. I did see Gronk training one day. I waved at him and was a little star-struck even though we are teammates,” Simmons said. “Whenever I meet Tom, I’m not going to be able to hold it in. I’m going to have to get a selfie or something.’
Or maybe even an autograph as Simmons did buy Brady’s book, The TB12 Method, when he learned he would be joining him in Florida. The Alabama native was at an Airbnb in Atlanta, Georgia, when he got the call that changed his life. Simmons’ agent was in contact with him continuously, telling him the Bucs were reaching out. The organization said if they didn’t pick up another receiver in the draft, they were interested in signing him.
“I kept telling my family what my agent was saying and my grandad said ‘I know you are going to end up down in Tampa.’ Then my agent called and told me they wanted to sign me, and before I could even say it, my granddad knew,” Simmons recalls. “I even have him on video saying ‘okay we are going to Tampa’ and I was like yes we are! Just getting that call from my agent telling me I would be playing in the NFL was a surreal experience.”
This past Thursday is when Simmons really realized his dream was now a reality as he received his first check. In that moment, it set in that he actually is playing at the professional level. But that isn’t the only realization that has set in.
Leading up to receiving that check, he admits he was struggling with the pressure that can come with it.
“Your family has made it this far providing for you and them. You aren’t the lifesaver they have been waiting on. If you don’t make it, everything is going to be fine. That’s what I have been struggling with — feeling like the weight is all on your shoulders,” Simmons said. “You need to make sure you are getting through that because when you get this money, if you aren’t mentally ready for it, you aren’t going to do good with it. You are going to be broke because you are going to be thinking about giving all this money to your family. Just make sure your head is on right and make sure the actual goal is generational wealth and living long term.”
That’s the biggest lesson Simmons has learned since football became his career – it’s not all on you. And that’s also the important advice he wants to give to his former West Virginia teammates who hope to one day be in his position.