The Tennessee Titans knew when they selected defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft that the Mississippi State product would not see the field for a sizeable chunk of the 2019 season due to Simmons’ ongoing rehab from a brutal knee injury he suffered during pre-draft preparations.
But, based on what head coach Mike Vrabel said at the end of the preseason, that chunk of missed games might not be quite as long as the Titans once thought.
“I would say that his progression and his recovery has been really, really good,” Vrabel said at the end of August. “I don’t want to rule anything out right now, but I would say that it’s far, far more along than what the average player would be. He’s further along.”
Simmons has been working extensively with the Titans’ strength and conditioning staff to get himself to a place where he’s ready to return to the field. He continues to make progress each day, especially on the mental side of things.
“When I’m working, I know I had surgery on my knee,” said Simmons, who believes that “99%” of rehabbing from an injury is a mental process. “But at the same time, I know that for me to get back to playing, I have to have comfort in it. I don’t really try to think about trying to have comfort in it, because I feel like if I’m thinking about it, I’m going to be cautious of it.”
In order to make up for lost time, Simmons has been intensely focused on learning the ins and outs of the Titans defense.
“I’m in meeting rooms, I’m around our captains on defense,” Simmons said. “I’m taking notes, mental reps. When Dean [Pees] is talking about the defense, Vrabel is talking about the defense, Coach [Terrell Williams] is talking about the defense, take a lot of notes.”
The Road to Recovery
Simmons is currently on the Titans’ Non-Football Injury list, a designation that exempts a player from counting against his team’s 53-man roster for the first six weeks of the season.
With that six-week period halfway over, Simmons has noticed an increase of intensity in the drills the Titans’ training staff are asking him to perform.
“As you get further, you start doing more,” said Simmons, who is still unsure whether he will be activated when first eligible at the start of Week 7. “I’m doing pretty much everything they tell me to do, but it’s a little more than when I first got here because that was earlier in the process. I’m getting closer to, hopefully, being on the field. I’m doing more right now.”
One of the focal points for Simmons, as he’s gone through the recovery process, has been re-gaining comfort with quick changes of direction. That’s usually one of the toughest steps for players recovering from an ACL tear, like Simmons.
“It’s something that I’m still getting better with, but it’s coming along really good,” Simmons said. “It’s part of the process of trying to get back. Especially with an ACL injury, changing direction is one of the harder things, but it’s been pretty good for me.”
Rules for a Return
At the start of Week 7, a new six-week window will open for Simmons, one in which he must begin practicing at some point to avoid becoming ineligible for the entire season.
Once Simmons begins practicing, the Titans will have 21 days to activate him to the 53-man roster.
When Simmons does return, he will join a defensive line group that currently includes Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey and a much-improved DaQuan Jones.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today