NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Tennessee drafted defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons at No. 19 overall last spring, it seemed a smart move that wouldn't pay off for the Titans until 2020.
The team may not have to wait that long.
The defensive tackle from Mississippi State practiced Wednesday for the first time with the Titans. Simmons remains on the non-football injury list after tearing his left ACL in February. The Titans are using the practices to see if Simmons has recovered enough to play, possibly as soon as Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The prospect of playing beside the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Simmons has four-time Pro Bowl tackle Jurrell Casey pretty excited.
"To have another guy in that rotation to give us a breather or come in and just party beside us man we can't wait to see it happen for real," Casey said.
The Titans (2-4) could afford to wait. Their defense ranks No. 5 in the NFL for scoring, giving up only 15.3 points a game. They are eighth in yards allowed and sixth against the pass. With 18 sacks, the Titans are tied for sixth-most in the league, and they're third on third down allowing conversions only 27.6 percent of the time.
Leaving Simmons on the shelf for 10 games would ensure the rookie would be fully recovered for 2020.
But Simmons has been working with the Titans' trainers and strength and conditioning staff since May. He even rehabilitated with Casey, who was recovering this offseason from a knee injury of his own before being activated Aug. 10. Titans coach Mike Vrabel has spent plenty of one-on-one time with Simmons as well.
Vrabel said Friday that Simmons' progress has been good working through individual drills to doing some team reps. The key will be how Simmons is feeling Saturday.
"We'll make a decision here going forward and see where he's at for Sunday," Vrabel said.
Simmons says he's trying to stay focused on each step and will do whatever Vrabel and the Titans ask of him to help them win.
"If it be on down the line or whether it's Sunday, I'm just depending on coach Vrabel and everybody else in this organization they won't lead me in the wrong way," Simmons said.
Vrabel said Simmons is big and powerful but also has been working hard on fundamentals that he'll need in the NFL. Simmons had 29 tackles for loss over the last two years at Mississippi State and earned third-team Associated Press All-America honors last season.
"I think with the injury we were able to isolate and identify some of those things," Vrabel said. "So, we'll see kind of where he fits in, but I think that there's some places along the front that he could easily fit into."
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Thursday the decision on when Simmons plays is up to general manager Jon Robinson, Vrabel and the training staff. Pees will be ready to put him in when told Simmons is available. While Pees has had some success with big, mobile defensive linemen in the NFL, the coordinator isn't willing to even guess at what Simmons could do on the field for the Titans.
"It's unfair to Jeff to put him in a position coming off an injury to say what he's going to be able to do and how well he's going to be able to do it," Pees said. "We're just not going to know until he plays."
And that, for the first time, could be Sunday.
Notes: LB Jayon Brown (groin) was limited Friday after not practicing the past two days and is doubtful against the Chargers. LB Sharif Finch (shoulder) and CB Chris Milton (calf) will not play. Veteran LB Cameron Wake (hamstring) is questionable after missing the past two games along with TE Delanie Walker (ankle) who did not practice Friday. LB Reggie Gilbert was added to the injury report with a knee that limited him Friday and is questionable.
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