While the San Francisco 49ers are an unfamiliar team to the Tennessee Titans, one defender is quite knowledgeable when it comes to Niners star running back Frank Gore.
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch grew up with Gore, and the two have been competing since they were in peewee football against each other.
“We’ve known each other since Little League. We played Little League ball against each other,” Tulloch said. “We played high school ball against each other. He played at Coral Gables High School and I played at Miami Killian High School.”
The battles between Tulloch and Gore continued through college when Tulloch went to North Carolina State and Gore stayed at home at the University of Miami, pitting both against each other in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Through their competition against each other, the two have struck up a mutual respect and friendship over the years, even working out with each other in the off-season in the Miami area.
“We had our battles for years, him being the leading rusher in the county for years. Him and Jonathan Vilma were teammates, and we’d work out together in the off-season. He’s an extremely talented player,” Tulloch said. “I’m happy for his success and all the troubles he’s been through growing up in Coconut Grove and Miami.
“Any guy from Miami, I root for. I’m happy for him and his success. He’s come off two ACL surgeries, one on each knee, and the loss of his mother and how he handled that. He’s a guy I admire.”
On Sunday, however, old acquaintances will be renewed, and sometimes Tulloch still has a hard time believing both of them are now at the professional leve.
“It’s kind of weird. We’re doing it in the NFL. It’s kind of a blur. I still remember him like yesterday playing against him in high school,” Tulloch said. “He’s the same Frank, a guy that works hard. You can see his hard work has paid off.”
The Titans added two key players to the injury report on Thursday.
Right tackle David Stewart left practice early because of a hamstring injury and was being evaluated.
Fisher declined to speculate on Stewart’s status.
Also, nickelback Vincent Fuller, just back from a broken forearm last week, had tightness in his groin and was backed down from the workout.
Defensive end Jevon Kearse was out of practice with his injured knee, after leaving Wednesday’s work following individual drills.
Running back Javon Ringer (back) and tackle Mike Otto (knee) were both out again and likely won’t practice Friday either or play Sunday.
Linebacker David Thornton (hip) was limited in Thursday’s work.
Badge of honor
The two Titans players in the Sports Illustrated poll of dirtiest players took the news in stride.
Center Kevin Mawae was fifth on the list, while cornerback Cortland Finnegan was sixth.
“I’m surprised Cortland wasn’t first to be honest with you,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
That honor went to Steelers receiver Hines Ward, but Finnegan said he wants to take the No. 1 spot for himself at some point.
“I’m looking forward to being No. 1. I want to be the dirtiest player in the NFL,” Finnegan said. “Absolutely. I love it. Guys think so highly of me.”
Mawae said he didn’t consider himself a dirty player, just one who plays hard all the time.
“The thing is I play the game hard. I play the game to the whistle and sometimes to the echo of the whistle,” Mawae said. “You play 100 miles an hour and those guys who don’t like it or take exception to it, they’re the ones that call you a dirty player. But I’m happy to know I’ve been on that list for the last 12 or 15 years.”
Advised that Finnegan was right behind him on the list, Mawae said, “See, he plays harder than most players on the field, and guys take exception to that.”
It’s an honor Vanden Bosch said he too would like to be recognized for.
“I’d like to climb my way up the list a little bit. It’s quite an honor,” Vanden Bosch said. “Hopefully, I won’t get anymore fines. I don’t want to buy my way onto that list.”
Former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who was usually on the list, called the Titans the dirtiest team in the NFL on The Dan Patrick Show on Thursday.
Harrison took exception to a hit to the knee by then-Titans receiver Bobby Wade that knocked him out of the playoffs in 2006.
Titans linebacker Gerald McRath, a rookie from Southern Mississippi, was pleased with the news that Steve McNair, Jr., son of the slain former Titans star quarterback was committing to his alma mater.
McNair, Jr., a prized recruit as a receiver at Oak Grove High School in Mississippi, turned down offers from bigger schools to stay close to home and play for the Golden Eagles.
“That’s huge. That’s real big. He’s close to home. Mount Olive, Steve’s hometown, is literally right down the street,” McRath said. “For him to be committed to the organization, that’s big for the university.”