Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said Monday decision day looms near for a pair of Titans players who have been trying to get back on the practice field and into games for a number of weeks.
Fisher said the Titans might be forced to make roster choices regarding middle linebacker Randall Godfrey and rookie cornerback Mike Echols unless they can make significant progress from their respective injuries.
Godfrey, who has missed seven of Tennessee’s 10 games with a high ankle sprain that includes damage that likely will need surgery after the season, is the more vital of the two.
Godfrey has been forced to give way first to Frank Chamberlin and then to rookie Rocky Calmus as he has not been able to progress from the troublesome injury.
“Randall Godfrey and Mike Echols are kind of reaching their defining moments, so to speak,” Fisher said. “We’ve backed off and backed off, and they’re either going to have to get on the practice field and either do it or not do it.
“We’re going to encourage them and push them through. I’d very much like to see Randall step up and be our starting middle linebacker for the rest of the year. Hopefully, his ankle will allow him to do that.”
Godfrey split practice reps with Calmus Wednesday and Thursday, but the soreness in the ankle did not relent enough for him to be active in Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. Fisher said the coaching staff has resisted the temptation to have Godfrey active while he is in limbo.
“Randall has been trying, attempting to play and practice and do all those kinds of things. It’s a collective decision between Randall and us and the medical staff as to whether or not he can play,” Fisher said. “He’s got to get the mindset that he’s going to play and be our leading tackler from here on out. It’s as frustrating to him as it is to us, just to wait and not know each week. We’ve done everything we can from a study standpoint. We’ve gotten second, third and fourth opinions. And it’s time to go.”
In Godfrey’s stead, Calmus has gotten the bulk of the playing time, and has done well, according to Fisher. Sunday’s game vs. the Steelers was actually the most extensive action Calmus has seen as opponents have chosen to force the Titans into their nickel package rather than base defense for much of the game.
“We’ve got confidence in Rocky playing the position,” Fisher said. “Rocky’s doing a pretty good job inside. He’s very instinctive. This is the most snaps he’s gotten and he did a nice job—all three linebackers played well.”
Even if Godfrey isn’t back, the Titans could get a linebacker back as Chamberlin may be able to do more than special teams work for the first time since breaking his left hand three weeks ago.
Fisher also said Godfrey would not play in the nickel, given that strongside linebacker Peter Sirmon has filled in well there.
As for Echols, who came to the Titans with a stress fracture in his shin that he re-injured against Oakland, Fisher wants to see him progress as well.
“Mike is walking now pain-free, and we need to pick it up and see,” Fisher said. “If Mike is going to have some problems with the shin in the next couple of weeks, then I’d rather have a healthy player on the roster than have an injured player.”
Asked if that meant removing the players from the 53-man roster and putting them on injured reserve, Fisher replied that it was an option, but still “a ways away.”
Fisher said Monday the only significant injury suffered by a Titan in Sunday’s game was a high ankle sprain that will have rookie receiver Darrell Hill out four to six weeks.
“We suspected that Darrell Hill had a fracture in the fibula after the game,” Fisher said. “The MRI revealed that he did not, actually, not necessarily that that is good news. He has what’s going to be classified as a high ankle sprain. The length of time that he’s going to miss would be as if he had a fracture. Our best guess right now is anywhere from four to six weeks on the high ankle sprain.”
Fisher said guard Benji Olson finished the game with a hyper-extended elbow and should be fine.
Also, he indicated that cornerback Dainon Sidney would return to practice this week with his broken forearm in a splint, and that tight end Frank Wycheck would be re-evaluated later in the week as he tries to recover from a concussion that idled him against Pittsburgh.
Steelers QB Tommy Maddox, who left on a stretcher after losing feeling in his limbs on the field, was walking Monday and heading back to Pittsburgh for more tests.
Maddox had a cranial concussion and a spinal concussion — the latter an injury similar to what Titans cornerback Samari Rolle suffered last year against Baltimore.
“Tommy Maddox is doing much better now,” Dr. Anthony Yates said. “We are certainly happy with his progress.”
It is too premature to speculate as to when Maddox might return to the Steelers lineup. Rolle missed two games with his spinal concussion, although that doesn’t necessarily serve as a gauge as the severity and areas affected in the spine vary with each case.
Field of screams
The condition of the playing field at The Coliseum raised concerns for Fisher Monday.
The playing surface was loose and chunky in several spots as the Titans and Steelers took the field less than one full day after Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech had played there Saturday.
“It was a huge concern. The grounds crew has done everything they can to keep it in playing shape, but it’s been difficult because of No. 1, it’s a difficult place to grow grass and secondly, we’ve had a lot of wear and tear with the other games,” Fisher said. “We’ve had a lot of rain. It was not in good shape yesterday at all.”
It could get worse before it gets better as TSU hosts Eastern Kentucky Thursday night and the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game Saturday.
“They’re working right now to get it in shape for Thursday night’s game and Saturday’s game, then we’ve got two weeks to hopefully get it settled down before we play again at home [on Dec. 8]. But it’s a concern,” Fisher said.