Fisher: Titans LB Witherspoon wants to play after mom's death

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that Will Witherspoon's mother died unexpectedly, so the starting linebacker has been excused from practice this week.

"He's going through a really tough time," Fisher said. "He lost his mom Tuesday, and ... it was sudden. It was unexpected, so we got him to the airport Tuesday afternoon and communicated with him last night.

"As you can understand, it's very, very difficult."

Nora Lee Cooper Witherspoon was 56.

The Titans said Wednesday that Witherspoon had been excused from practice for personal reasons.

Fisher said the Titans are leaving it up to Witherspoon when to return to the team, although the veteran told the coach he plans to be back for Sunday's season opener against the Oakland Raiders. Coaches are getting information to the ninth-year veteran.

"He'll be back for the game. At that point, we'll evaluate it," Fisher said. "He expressed 100 percent interest and confidence in his ability to play in this game. Fortunately for Will, he's a very experienced player."

The Titans signed Witherspoon to a three-year, $11 million contract in March, making him their first pickup in free agency. He has been working with middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch to anchor a unit that has veteran David Thornton healing up his hip on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and Gerald McRath suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

If Witherspoon isn't able to play, that would put stress on a thin unit. Colin Allred worked with the first team through the preseason, but he has been limited this week by an ankle injury.

"If this unfortunate tragic circumstance had happened to a younger player, there'd really be no way for the player to come back and play, missing the time," Fisher said. "In Will's case, I have confidence we're communicating with him over the next couple days. ... When he can come back, we'll get him back."

Witherspoon grew up in a military family and went to high school in Panama City, Fla., before starring at the University of Georgia.

Tulloch said he spoke with Witherspoon by telephone before his teammate caught his flight at the airport.

"For her to be fairly young with no health problems, it is shocking to him. ... Your heart goes out to him," Tulloch said. "Football comes secondary to your family.

"When he comes back, we'll be here for him."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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