NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Rookie defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons made his NFL debut for the Tennessee Titans (3-4) in their win over the Los Angeles Chargers (2-5) on Sunday, just seven weeks into the season and eight months after he suffered a brutal knee injury while preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine.

It was a bit surprising that Simmons was able to be on the field since it was unclear when Titans took him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft back in April if he would be able to play at all this season.

In his first game action, Simmons recorded two tackles for loss and a sack. He proved that he can be a disruptive force for the Titans defense moving forward.

“I think he played extremely well,” said safety Kevin Byard, whose spot in the secondary gives him a front-row seat to watch the defensive line. “I mean, he got a sack in his first game, so it can’t go any better for the rookie.

“I’m proud of him, and I know he’s going to keep improving and getting better. Right at this time, we knew we were going to need him, and it’s a blessing for him to come back and, I would say, dominate today.”

“I mean, he looked like a big dude that was going forward and excited about playing football,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “It’s a long journey for him. He’s a great kid. He’s a better person than he is a football player and we think he’s going to be a great football player. This is the kind of guy you want to be around. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

Perhaps Simmons’ most crucial contribution for the Titans in his debut was the role he played in the team’s game-winning goalline stand in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

The leverage he gained against RG Michael Schofield on the Charger’s final offensive play of the game forced RB Melvin Gordon to bounce a Philip Rivers handoff to the outside instead of taking it up the gut.

“When I came off the ball, I knew that I was going to get the guard by himself, so my job is to knock my man back, beat the guy in front of me,” Simmons said. “I feel like I did a great job of that.”

Gordon was met on the outside by LB Wesley Woodyard, who forced a fumble which the Titans recovered in the end zone to end the game.

“We had a guy playing in his first NFL game knock his man back two yards,” Vrabel said.    “[Woodyard] got his hand on the ball and was able to finish it.”

“He did a hell of a job,” DL Jurrell Casey said. “That dude came out and played a hell of a game—one sack, four tackles. You can’t ask for better than that.”

The Titans made sure not to give Simmons more than he could handle in his debut, as he played just one-third of the team’s defensive snaps.

Moving forward, though, he figures to get more opportunities.

Vrabel said that Simmons’ limited snap count against the Chargers was by design and that the team will explore the possibility of increasing the rookie’s playing time moving forward.

“We wanted to try to keep it right where it was,” Vrabel said. “We would like to continue to look to increase that based on how he feels. The more that the players can handle, the more we’ll try to give them.”

As for Simmons, he is excited to be helping his team and that he’s finally living his dream of playing in the NFL.

“It felt wonderful, being out there with my teammates and having the opportunity to help my team win,” Simmons said. “To help this team win is big. It’s all football, as I had said earlier this week, I’m not going out there timid. It’s my first year and I have an injury, but I play football. That’s what I do, and I just went out there and played my game. I was trusting the process and trusting their plans for me, and it has gone from there.”

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today

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