NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jeffery Simmons is running a race without a defined finish line. The Tennessee Titans rookie defensive tackle, drafted at No. 19 in the first round, is rehabbing after tearing his ACL while training in February. Given the typical recovery period of eight to nine months, Simmons could potentially be back as early as October.
On the other hand, there's a chance he won’t play a snap this season. The Titans seem content with bringing him along gradually and not pushing him to play during his rookie year. They already have veteran defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to play the 3-technique and DaQuan Jones to play nose tackle. Tennessee signed former Ravens defensive lineman Brent Urban to round out the starters up front.
With his return timetable up in the air, Simmons focuses on controlling what he can control -- starting with his rehab.
“I’m not rushing anything. If I don’t play this year, I’m fine with it,” Simmons said in June. “But my goal is to get healthy on my time and on this team’s time. There’s no time limit on when I can come back. Every day I come to work, and I’m putting my mindset at ‘I want to get back today.’ That’s how I come to work every day and try to get better.”
The 6-foot-4, 301-pound Simmons was cleared to run in June. Once training camp started, he worked out on a side field with the team’s training staff during practice. He would begin by doing various stretches before loosening up through light jogging without a knee brace on. Once the brace went back on for added support, Simmons would perform a drill that simulates getting to the quarterback. He would get into a 3-point stance and work on firing off the ball and shooting his hands against a tackling dummy.
Simmons has been working with Casey, who was on the physically unable to perform list up until last week. Casey's presence is already paying off for Simmons, according to head coach Mike Vrabel.
"I think it’s really positive that Jurrell’s with them to be able to explain the technique when [Simmons] hears a coach say it, and also show him the technique, because Jurrell’s been with us, and he’s doing it, and does it pretty naturally," Vrabel said.
"It's huge when you get an older guy to go in front of you and show you the techniques they are looking for and show you the things you need to work on," Casey said. "That's always big for a young guy, to be able to go out there for a few days and show him a few tricks and tips, to be able to talk to him and not just show the reps. That's the best part about it. When we get to sit there and talk about it, we can go into the training room and talk about it a little more to go over a few things that he needs to adjust."
Simmons said he was mostly in the weight room while the team practiced during OTAs and minicamp, but he's also been making the most of the classroom experience he's had with Titans coaches and has been doing what he can to prepare mentally. Defensive line coach Terrell Williams credited Simmons with doing an excellent job of staying involved in the meeting room by watching tape and asking the right questions.
Simmons is making an impact with veterans, too. Casey said he got motivation from Simmons to push himself more and joked that the trainers have to tell Simmons to slow down.
"I’m grateful for this opportunity, that they trusted me that I’m going to come in and get the work done off the field," Simmons said. "I’m trusting the process. It’s not too frustrating right now. My goal is to get healthy, and when I get back on the field, it’s full go. I’m just trusting the plan, coming to work every day, just getting better every day. Whenever that time comes, I can’t wait."