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Titans' McNair Ready To Play

Steve McNair says he's healthy, and the Tennessee Titans quarterback has been cleared by doctors. Coach Jeff Fisher is hedging his bets, however, and won't say whether McNair would start against the St. Louis Rams.

McNair got most of the work Wednesday, but Fisher stretched practice out an extra half hour to make sure backup Neil O'Donnell also got plenty of repetitions with the first team. Who starts against the Rams (6-0) may not be decided until just before kickoff Sunday as Fisher waits to see how McNair handles a week of practice.

"We're getting both Steve and Neil prepared to play," Fisher said.

The starting job has belonged to O'Donnell since McNair had surgery Sept. 19 to repair a ruptured disc in his back. The only conditions Fisher set for McNair was that he had to be cleared by doctors as 100 percent healthy and take part in all drills for a week before returning to the lineup.

Doctors certified McNair as healthy in time to take part in a light workout Tuesday with the Titans (5-1). The first big test came Wednesday in a 2 1/2-hour practice.

McNair sprinted out, ran a draw out of the shotgun and even completed a 65-yard touchdown pass play to Yancey Thigpen. He twisted his body faking a handoff and finished practice with a set of sprints by himself without feeling any pain or discomfort.

"If I have a little pain, I'll lighten up. But I don't feel any pain," he said.

McNair, who had started 34 consecutive games before injuring his back, approached the practice as a game in trying to make the right reads and decisions. His biggest challenge is getting his timing down with receivers after throwing at dummies the past four weeks.

His receivers didn't notice any dropoff.

"He's moving around extremely well," Thigpen said. "He's got a lot of heat on the ball. He's throwing it tremendously well."

But Fisher doesn't want to take the chance that McNair's back acts up before kickoff or that his timing is off. That is why O'Donnell, who went 4-1 during McNair's absence, also is preparing to start. If McNair starts, O'Donnell said he won't pout.

"I took total advantage of the opportunity I had. He (Fisher) told me to make his decision hard, and hopefully I did," said O'Donnell, who is the AFC's fourth-rated passer.

McNair had been targeting Sunday's game with the Rams for his return, but said he has no problem if Fisher decides to start O'Donnell for one more game.

"Me and Neil are in this thing together. Neil has done his job well. If his number's called, he can do the job. If my number's called, I think it's going t be a different transition. I can go out and get the job done, too," he said.

The Rams are splitting the difference and preparing for McNair, the scrambling quarterback, and the dropback passer O'Donnell.

"We know deep down that Jeff Fisher wants to get McNair back in there as soon as possible, but I don't think the way Neil is playing that there's any rush to get Steve back in before he's ready," Rams cornerback Todd Lyght said. "If he is ready to play, he will play."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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