Titans LB McRath grateful to be back after suspension

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- 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 while serving a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances has made the second-year pro appreciate his job as a Tennessee Titans linebacker even more.

"It's a privilege to be here, and I never want to take anything for granted," McRath said. "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, 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 team headquarters after being banned from contact the past four weeks.

Where he fits into Tennessee's 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 the Dallas Cowboys (1-2) on Sunday, are eighth in the NFL in yards allowed and 10th against the run.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher isn't saying what McRath will do against the Cowboys except that the linebacker could be inactive or start.

"It's great to have him back," Fisher said. "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."

If the Cowboys open with three receivers, McRath likely won't be on the field. Tulloch and Witherspoon have played well in the Titans' nickel defense. Tulloch leads the Titans with 38 tackles. Witherspoon has three sacks and tipped a couple of balls for interceptions, one in last weekend's 26-20 loss to the Denver Broncos.

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," he said. "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."

The Titans drafted McRath out of Southern Mississippi in the fourth round last year, and the 6-foot-3, 231-pounder made a quick impression, starting five games with 38 tackles, an interception and a pass defended. He learned of his positive test in February.

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?" he said.

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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 (Finnegan)'s helmet off," McRath said. "I tried to run through the TV, but I really wasn't getting nowhere."

McRath's energy inspired teammates. Finnegan compared him to Tulloch.

"He's going to go to the football and make plays on the football. He had an exceptional preseason," Finnegan said. "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."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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