Titans LB McRath back from 4-game suspension, says absence made him appreciate NFL more

By Teresa M. Walker, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

McRath grateful to be back after 4-game suspension

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee linebacker Gerald McRath feels like a child in a toy store, eager to run around the aisles and rip open everything.

Four weeks away from the NFL serving a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances has made the second-year player appreciate his job even more.

“It’s a privilege to be here, and I never want to take anything for granted. Every moment that I’m here I want to live it to the fullest. You never know when it’s going to be your last game,” McRath said.

McRath, who insists he took a tainted supplement, quit appealing his suspension in June. He rejoined the Titans (2-2) on Monday, texting and calling to find out how early he could show up at the team headquarters after being banned from contact the past four weeks.

Where he fits into the Tennessee defense now remains to be seen.

McRath spent the offseason and most of training camp working with the first-team unit alongside Will Witherspoon and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. The Titans, who visit Dallas (1-2) on Sunday, are eighth in the NFL in yards allowed and 10th against the run.

Coach Jeff Fisher isn’t saying yet for sure what McRath will do against the Cowboys except that the linebacker could be inactive or start.

“It’s great to have him back. Realistically speaking, he’s stayed in great shape so he will pick up where he left off. It will really depend a lot and be dictated by the Cowboys and what they try to do offensively,” Fisher said.

If the Cowboys open with three receivers on the field, McRath likely won’t be on the field. Tulloch and Witherspoon have played well in the Titans’ nickel, or passing defense. Tulloch is tied for the team lead with tackles and has defended two passes. Witherspoon has three sacks and tipped a couple balls for interceptions, including in last week’s 26-20 loss to Denver.

McRath said he’s fine with however the Titans want to use him.

“Being suspended for four games, that makes me want to work even harder. Like I said, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If you watch the defense has been playing (great)… To come back in, I need to be at a point saying I can do this. I can help you guys out even better because to me they’re great,” McRath said.

The Titans drafted McRath out of Southern Mississippi in the fourth round last year, and the 6-foot-3, 231-pound linebacker made a quick impression as he started five games with 38 tackles, an interception and a pass defended. He learned of his positive test in February and dropped his appeal in June when the NFL announced his suspension.

McRath said then he wouldn’t take any more supplements until tested to know for sure they were clear. During training camp, he said he wasn’t taking any supplements to avoid another positive test.

Once his suspension started, McRath stayed in the Nashville area working out at a local gym. He timed his sessions with the Titans’ practices so he would be working out at the same time his teammates hit the field.

“My focus mainly hasn’t been on harping on my suspension but harping on how can I get better? What advantage can I get from being off for four weeks?” McRath said.

Game days were the hardest. Suspended players can’t be at the stadium, so McRath went home to Georgia. He and his mother went to Buffalo Wild Wings to eat and watch his teammates.

“The toughest thing I couldn’t get inside the TV when they were … trying to take Cortland’s helmet off, I tried to run through the TV but I really wasn’t getting nowhere,” McRath said of cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

McRath provides lots of energy both in practice and in games. Finnegan said he’s much like Tulloch as a bloodhound.

“He’s going to go to the football and make plays on the football. He had an exceptional preseason,” he said of McRath. “Coming around, he’s going to be exciting for us. I know he wants to work his way back into it, knock some of the rust off. I think it’s good to have him back for sure.”

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