Titans' Kearse shows you really can go home again

The NFL's talent search bellows.

And so many players on so many levels still long for new homes.

Home for the NFL player -- and especially a new home -- is where the cash is. It is where comfort is provided in the coaching, schemes and environment. Often players find it in the most circuitous ways.

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A distinguished journalist with nearly 26 years of newspaper and television experience, Thomas George joins NFL.com as a senior columnist. He previously was a writer and columnist for the New York Times, Denver Post and Detroit Free Press, and managing editor of NFL Network.

Warrick Dunn began his career with the Bucs. He is back. Muhsin Muhammad just completed the circle to Carolina. Marty Booker recently re-introduced himself to the Bears.

And Jevon Kearse has found his way back to Tennessee.

This is one of the most captivating player movements we will see. Because Kearse went from overnight sensation in Tennessee to oblivion in Philadelphia. From "The Freak" to the "The Flop."

Kearse's response? Shut up. You take care of your home. I'll take care of mine. Especially, he says, now that he is truly home.

"The last couple of seasons have been a crazy ride," he said via phone from South Florida on Tuesday before boarding a flight to Nashville. He enters his 10th NFL season. Wednesday in Tennessee marks the first time, he said, that he has participated in voluntary workouts during his career.

"I'm not doing it to show my face or for good faith," Kearse said. "I'm doing it just to see if something good comes out of it. I've always trained in Florida in the scorching heat with fast guys who push me. I'm eager to try it now this way."

Eager to return home.

He first arrived in Tennessee in 1999, the 16th player selected in the draft, a Florida Gator who looked more like a tweener than a brute. He was 6-foot-5, weighed nearly 255-pounds and ran like Deion Sanders. Actually, at the combine in '99, Kearse ran 4.43 in the 40-yard sprint and tied Sanders for the fastest first 10 yards in combine history. A defensive end who could run like a cornerback who was built like a power forward?

"The Freak."

He won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Titans reached Super Bowl XXXIV and lost to St. Louis, and Kearse in his first three Titans seasons produced 36 sacks and three straight Pro Bowl berths. In five seasons with the Titans, he gained 47½ sacks.

But in 2004, he bolted to the Eagles for an eight-year, $66 million contract.

Halfway into it -- he had only 22 sacks during that span and knee and ankle injuries caused him to miss 16 games over the last two seasons -- the Eagles cut him. Minnesota called. But something was calling Kearse back to Tennessee.

"Coming back home where it all started, where I earned my name, that was it," Kearse said. "In Philadelphia I had to line up over the tight end, take him on, take on the tackle and then get to the quarterback. Now I get back to lining up wide and going after the quarterback, going after the ball."

That is what speed rushers do.

He said he saw it coming, his benching by the Eagles late last year, his being cut after the season, his slide from prominence to obscurity. He was prepared for it, he said.

He kept looking in the mirror, checking himself.

He said he knew he was prepared for adversity.

"My father died when my mother was pregnant with me," Kearse said. "He was killed in my hometown, in Ft. Myers, in a pool hall. I was next to the oldest of seven kids. My mom had to work odd jobs to make sure we were taken care of. I had to babysit and teach the others. We kind of grew up fast. Took on a lot. And I had the influence of aunts and uncles and coaches who helped fill the gap.

"In my second year at Florida, one of my brothers (Rocky) was murdered back home. It was a tough place to grow up. You had to grow up fast. You had lots of freedom. My brother was into gun play. He was trying to protect a friend when he was killed. I have a tattoo of him on my shoulder of a 3-D cross and rose vines on it and his initials. A month ago, I added around it: 'FATHER FORGIVE ME, FOR I HAVE SINNED.' Guys ask me, 'Man, what have you done?' It's not anything I've done. Just a message for everyone to consider in their lives. And a message for my brother. He never got the chance to ask for forgiveness."

Thus, Kearse says that is one reason he can nearly always see it coming, the challenges, the tests, the doubt. He knows that many of his peers, many coaches and management in this league believe he is a shell of "The Freak." That his body this fall cannot do at 32 (he reaches that age on Sept. 3) what it did when he was a rookie.

That the Titans were foolish for giving him a two-year, $16 million contract with a $1.3 million signing bonus.

No more of those Titans drills where four players race for three cones 20 yards ahead, someone is supposed to be left without one, only, Kearse was quick and fast enough to get there and grab all four. No more of those practices where on the option the quarterback spins, Kearse is on him, the quarterback pitches and Kearse tackles the back for a loss. Or those standing jumps where he would move the tile in the ceiling, far surpassing the drill's highest bar. No more of that, right?

Just because his new home is his old one does not mean new results will be the like old ones. Right? But the Titans insist this is not a nostalgic move. They love Kearse paired with robust end Kyle Vanden Bosch, with massive Albert Haynesworth in the middle, stout linebacker Keith Bulluck and others complementing that front. They believe Kearse can give them a furious pass rush when it is required. The rest, well, like all of us, they will wait and see.

Kearse, however, says he sees it coming.

As clearly as his change from wearing No. 93 as an Eagle back to No. 90 as a Titan.

"I'm hearing that if a team lets someone go, if they just cut them, like me, they do that for a reason, as in they can't play anymore," he said. "You see all of these free agents. Some have new homes, some don't. None of them can play? If you change for the right team and scheme you can go from worst to first. You see it happen every year. They say I am done. I have nothing left. People that know me know what is about to happen. Don't get me started now. I don't want to get too deep into that."

Too late.

Home provides comfort.

Home provides this player hope –- and more.

"I've been through some mental games in life and in football" Kearse said. "There are things I have had to accept. But when that No. 90 is on my back once again, all the rest will speak for itself. By then, we won't have to worry about who is saying what. The Titans made a great decision drafting me out of Florida. They reaped the benefits. Now they get to reap the benefits again. I'm pissed off. They have a very experienced, soon-to-be-32-year-old freak. I'll make it a good thing."

Can you see it coming?

Thomas George is a senior columnist for NFL.com.

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