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Undrafted rookie running back with Titans after Senior Bowl injury

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rafael Little doesn't feel comfortable yet even though he has a locker and a spot with the Tennessee Titans. A torn-up knee does that to a running back.

"I guess when I get back out there, I'll see what I really can do," Little said.

That won't be any time this year, not realistically for a running back who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament at the Senior Bowl in January and was on crutches during the NFL Scouting Combine in February. But the Titans think it's a smart gamble to latch onto an undrafted player who is one of only three in Southeastern Conference history with 2,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.

"I met with him at the combine and talked about the possibility and brought him in for a visit and talked to him and just felt it was worthwhile," coach Jeff Fisher said.

Don't think this was a rare moment of NFL charity.

Little also had been talking with the San Francisco 49ers and two other teams he wouldn't identify. But he decided to try his luck with the Titans because the team is so close to his home in Anderson, S.C., and the University of Kentucky.

"That's kind of a great place for me," Little said.

This isn't how the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Little pictured entering the NFL.

He finished eighth all-time in the SEC with 5,343 all-purpose yards with his skills running, catching and returning kicks and as Kentucky's third all-time leading rusher with 2,996 yards. He averaged 5.1 yards on 580 carries and 10.1 yards on 131 catches. He was even better on punt returns, with a long of 84 and an average of 14.2 yards on 60 attempts.

Then Little tore his ACL during practice at the Senior Bowl. That could have been the final blow: the fourth major knee injury for a player who had a string of other health problems, including a thigh bruise last year. He had surgery Feb. 5 and was on crutches when he went to the combine.

Yes, he went even though he felt a bit like a kid standing outside a candy store with no money in his pocket.

"I pretty much hate watching people do stuff when I can't do anything. It gets to me a lot, but I know I've got to deal with it," Little said.

Watching other running backs in the 40-yard dash may have been the toughest.

"I felt like I could've been faster than some people," he said. "Things happen for a reason."

That is where Fisher talked to Little and liked what he heard enough to invite him to Nashville for a pre-draft visit. On the final day of the draft, Little was watching and hurting, hoping he would hear his name called. But his telephone didn't ring until the draft ended, and that's when Little decided to go with the Titans because of Fisher.

"It made me feel like he really wants me here," said Little, who had to watch the Titans' rookie minicamp that ended Saturday. "That motivates me a lot. They did the same thing at Kentucky because I came in there hurt, too."

For the next few months, his focus will be on healing and strengthening his leg. Once healthy, he doesn't care what the Titans want him to do.

"I just want to get out there," Little said with a laugh.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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