NASHVILLE – As rave reviews poured in for his performance in Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Jeffery Simmons spoke to an uncle who asked a question.
“Are you addicted or are you hungover,” Simmons recalled Thursday.
The point of the query was clear. Either his play in Week 9 was a one-time thing that is not likely to be repeated often or it raised the standard for what is expected of the Tennessee Titans’ third-year defensive lineman. And make no mistake, much already was expected of a player selected in the first-round of the 2019 NFL Draft who made an impact in the first game he played.
With a career-high three sacks and four quarterback pressures Sunday, Simmons played arguably the best game of his NFL career to date. He became the first Tennessee player since 2008 with at least three sacks in a game, and he got them all in the first half, when Tennessee built a 21-3 lead. He also forced an interception when he nearly sacked Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford near the goal line.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive tackle did all of that in a prime-time contest against a team many analysts considered the league’s best through the first eight weeks of the season. And he did it as Tennessee’s offense adjusted to the fact that it did not – and will not for some time – have its best player, running back Derrick Henry. Tennessee ultimately dispatched Los Angeles 28-16.
“(Simmons) will always raise the standards or expectations,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. “He is such a great guy to be around. Love seeing him every morning. We would miss him if we came to work, and he wasn’t here one day. Just his attitude, his demeanor, his leadership and obviously the production.”
Simmons currently leads the Titans with 40 quarterback pressures, is second with five and a half sacks and is third with 11 quarterback hits. He already has set personal single-season bests for sacks, quarterback pressures and tackles for loss (seven). He also is on pace a career-high in tackles.
Only three other interior defensive linemen across the NFL have more than five sacks.
“You see the technique and things, like it’s visible, it’s on film,” defensive coordinator Shane Bowen said. “Showing him, ‘Dude, you’re tough to handle. If you play with technique, it’s going to be hard for anyone to block you.’ It’s just continuing to build that consistency with the technique play in and play out.
“He can go without technique, and he survives, and he finds ways.”
That was apparent right from the start.
The Titans, of course, famously selected Simmons with the 19th overall pick in 2019 even though he had reconstructive knee surgery roughly two months earlier to repair an injury sustained during pre-draft training. He was not healthy enough to play until late October of his rookie year but jumped into the lineup without the benefit of any offseason, training camp or preseason work and only a modicum on practice time.
In his debut, against the Los Angeles Chargers, Simmons made six tackles, had one sack and was a significant contributor to a game-saving goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. In 2020, he tied for the NFL lead with three fumble recoveries and was in the conversation for a Pro Bowl berth.
“I want to keep climbing that ladder to be the best player I can be,” Simmons said. “I want to be one of the greats to play this game. So, each and every day, each and every game, each and every practice I want to keep improving.
“I’m going to try – not to be perfect but dang near – to keep having disruptive games.”
It’s almost as if it is becoming an obsession … or something else.
“How can I keep stacking these plays?” Simmons said. “How can I be addicted to making more big plays and keep having big games and just help my team win games?
“I told (my uncle) I want to be addicted to it.”