NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly nine months without playing football is bad enough and if the injured player is worried that it’s a career-ending setback, it makes the time away worse.
Tennessee Titans linebacker Kevin Dodd knows that feeling all too well.
The 33rd pick overall out of Clemson in 2016 is in training camp with the Titans after an aching right foot sidelined him for the final seven games of his rookie season. Recovering from a second surgery kept him out of the offseason program too, making his wait feel endless.
“A year without football is awhile man,” Dodd said. “I don’t know if you know, but a year without football that’s big. … I’ve just got to continue to try to get better every day. I’m not going to doubt myself. I go out there I feel pretty confident, but I still need to get back to who I think I can be.”
The Titans thought enough of Dodd to make him the first pick of the second round in general manager Jon Robinson’s first draft. Dodd turned in 12 sacks with 23 ½ tackles for loss in 2015 for Clemson that included three sacks in the national championship game against Alabama.
Dodd had an outstanding rookie camp, but then hurt his right foot. The Titans tried surgery in late May 2016 hoping to fix the issue. Dodd even started the second game of the season at Detroit and got a sack.
Yet Dodd says he never felt healthy as a rookie, and a victory Nov. 13 over Green Bay was his last game. Dodd was scratched against Indianapolis and Chicago before the Titans put him on injured reserve Dec. 6, 2016. That left Dodd with just nine tackles, four quarterback pressures and one tackle for loss to go along with that lone sack for his rookie season.
After the second surgery, thoughts that he would never play in the NFL again crept into Dodd’s mind. He credits Titans coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson with helping him understand he was dealing with a freak injury.
“They told me to be patient, so I learned to be patient with this injury,” Dodd said.
Mularkey, who recovered from his own foot surgery this offseason, said Dodd had a lot of pressure coming into Tennessee only to deal with the frustration of being hurt.
“The problem is a lot of the guys get more down on themselves than anyone else,” Mularkey said. “Jon and I, our coaching staff, the support staff here, we’re here for these guys. It’s important that they’re successful. I think they know that. I think he knows that better about us. With the situation he was put in with that foot, I think he knows us a lot better because of it.”
Now Dodd’s foot is fully healthy, and he’s working behind Derrick Morgan with Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo on the other side. The Titans also signed linebacker Erik Walden just before camp, someone who had 11 sacks last season. Orakpo says he thinks Dodd can be special.
“I know fans are excited to see him out there,” Orakpo said.
Mularkey only wants Dodd focused on being an outside linebacker in the Titans’ 3-4 defensive front after playing 4-3 in college. Then the Titans will be ready to use the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Dodd in some different schemes.
Dodd is eager to prove that he isn’t a bust.
“Oh, I’m definitely not done,” Dodd said. “I got a lot of work to do and just got to keep my head down and keep grinding.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker