After nearly seven months of waiting, the Tennessee Titans took the wrappings off cornerback Mike Echols.
The fourth-round draft pick was activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list Monday and participated in drills with his teammates for the first time as a Titan.
Echols has been recovering from a broken left shin suffered last January while working out for the NFL Combine in preparation for the draft.
Needless to say, the stress fracture caused his draft stock to plummet, and a young man the Titans originally had a second-round draft grade on, was still there for the taking on the second day of the draft with the 110th overall pick.
The selection of Echols, a four-year starter at the University of Wisconsin, was one pick the Titans would have to wait on before making an evaluation, as he was limited to running on the side throughout both mini-camps and through the first two weeks of training camp as well.
But that all changed Monday when Echols was on the field, wearing his helmet and getting his first real taste of life as a professional football rookie. The decision to add him to the active roster was made tentatively last Thursday, provided he made it successfully through his running drills on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which he did.
“They told me last Thursday that if you can get through the weekend, Thursday, Friday and Saturday running with minimal soreness, we’re going to let you fly around a little bit on Monday,” Echols said, adding that that bit of news provided him with extra incentive.
So far so good for Echols, though the Titans will soft-shoe it with him for the first few days while he works his way into football shape.
“It’s been a long time. He’s worked hard at it, and we’re just going to have to be careful and patient and watch him and bring him along,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s going to have to get his body used to doing football drills because you can imagine what he’s comparatively speaking to his teammates, so we just have to be smart about that.”
As for his first day of competitive drills, Echols held his own, something that pleased both him and his coaches.
“It was hard to tell, but he did well for the first day,” Titans secondary coach Everett Withers said. “He got a few reps. We’re going to try to watch him and not wear him down and get a pull or anything.
“Mike’s a pretty smart young man. He’s conscientious and he studies. Obviously, there are going to be few little things that you don’t quite get that happen fast for you, but the more he gets out there the more he’ll pick those things up.”
Echoed Fisher: “He’s got a long way to go. But one thing that did show up in the limited work that he had is he’s been paying attention and knows what to do.”
Echols said he had one mistake during his reps, but overall, was positive about his first effort.
“I think I did OK. I had one mental lapse out there, but other than that, I felt pretty comfortable out there,” he said. “I guess the watching I did on the sidelines is kind of paying off, because I actually knew what I was doing when I was out there.”
Echols, who is one of six cornerbacks expected to compete for playing time this season with the Titans. However, he won’t see any action in Saturday’s preseason opener with the St. Louis Rams.
“I think it’s a little too soon this week,” Fisher said. “We’ll watch him throughout the week, but I think a realistic goal would be to potentially the Oakland Raider game [Aug. 15] in situations.”
For Echols, who waited for months to get back on the field, a few more days of easing into things should be bad. As he said, the worst is definitely behind him.
“It has been torture,” Echols said, “being the competitor that I am and just watching guys go out there sweating and working so hard every day and I’m on the sidelines or over with the trainers running and that’s no fun. I really wanted to get out there and compete and mix it up with these guys. So actually getting out there today felt good.”