Gerald McRath’s head is clean-shaven. Gone is the Mohawk that he wore so proudly through the latter part of the 2009 season and all through offseason workouts.
“I feel like it symbolizes a fresh start,” the Tennessee Titans’ second-year linebacker said. “Last year’s ‘do was last year’s ‘do. Cut it off all fresh and start over from scratch.”
What happens when it begins to grow back, even he can’t say.
“I normally just get the feel of it,” he said. “The guys wouldn’t let me cut the Mohawk because we started winning. I’m thinking once we start winning games, you guys will probably see something from me.”
One thing that is certain is that lightening the load on top of his head has nothing to do with the fact that a pending four-game suspension weighs heavily on his mind.
The fact is that the suspension – announced in June due to a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy – is not really a burden for him.
“Things happen for a reason and (the suspension) is no bigger thing than if I got hurt and had to miss games or if something came up and you have to prepare yourself to get back out there,” McRath said. “All it is is adversity. Adversity happens in life. It happens in football. It’s happening to me now.
“It’s all about how you plan on looking at it. Do I think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t.”
Not that the situation is not problematic. The suspension, which will take place during the first four games of the season, keeps him out of workouts and meetings in addition to contests.
McRath, a fourth-round pick in 2009 out of Southern Mississippi, is on his way up the depth chart at linebacker, a position in transition for the Titans with the loss of Keith Bulluck and the injury that has kept David Thornton out of training camp workouts thus far. That fact that he is not available to play at the start of the season means someone else must be.
“That’s a difficult set of circumstances that he’s dealing with, and we are, for that matter,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “But you have to separate it and you have to work as if you’re going to start the regular season. And we’ll begin to modify it as we’re getting closer.”
The Titans have been through this before.
For example, in 1999 defensive tackle Josh Evans sat out the first four games due to a league suspension. He made a season-high eight tackles in his first game back, played 11 of the final 12 games and was a key postseason performer as Tennessee advanced to its only Super Bowl appearance.
“It’s extremely important for him to stay focused, and he is,” linebackers coach Dave McGinnis said. “Gerald is not only a very good football player, he’s a tremendous human being. He’s got a grasp of what’s going on. He knows the situation, and he needs to continue to prepare. He’s going to play a lot of football for us this year. He’s not going to be there for four weeks and then he’ll come back.”
Until then, he plans to keep a level head.
“I try to be positive about everything,” McRath said. “ … I’m just taking everything day by day and when the time comes it’s going to be tough. I don’t like missing games. It’s going to be tough, but it’s something you can’t sit and dwell on. If you sit here and you mope about it then you’re not getting better.
“This is the opportunity I have. I have training camp and I can participate with the guys, get better every day and push myself.”