Titans players have repeatedly said how excited they’ve been to participate in this year’s offseason program, but Marc Mariani might be most appreciative of the opportunity.
The former seventh-round draft pick rarely, if ever, has conducted an interview without expressing how thankful he is to be in the NFL. That was the case during his first training camp, after he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie return specialist in 2010 and in each subsequent training camp.
It’s still true, possibly even double-stamped, considering the amount of work the fourth-year pro has put in to return to the field after suffering a broken leg on August 23 in a preseason game against Arizona.
“Every rep for me is huge just because I need to make up for time lost, so I’d say I’m getting there,” Mariani said. “I’m gaining confidence but it’s definitely a battle and I’ve still got some work in front of me so it’s good to be able to participate and not have to wait to be able to be thrown in there, but I definitely have some work to do.”
Mariani endured surgery and said rehab in September, October and November was particularly challenging.
“They were tough (months), and I definitely had a lot of support from ‘Titans Nation’ and my family and friends back home,” Mariani said. “It’s been hard to get to this point. I’m just excited to be here and optimistic about the future.
“I’m working hard every day, and that’s kind of where I’m at,” Mariani continued. “I push through some things and some things I’ve got to hold back on, but kind of day-to-day, week-to-week, I’m just trying to improve and keep progressing as I have been.”
Jake Locker, who went through physical therapy after having his shoulder surgically repaired in January, said he’s happy that Mariani has made it this far back and knows that he’ll keep fighting.
“Marc’s a personal friend of mine and I think a lot of people really enjoy watching him or are a fan of his, so to be able to see him come back and be doing so well, recovering so well from a pretty brutal injury, it’s encouraging,” Locker said. “You’re happy for him. He’s a good guy, he works hard and I think he deserves that opportunity.”
Tags: Marc Mariani, Tennessee Titans
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In his first two NFL seasons, Marc Mariani has made his living as one of the NFL’s top kick returners. He made the Pro Bowl his rookie year as the AFC’s top return man and enjoyed another productive season on special teams in 2011.
But Mariani has bigger goals, including a desire to be on the field Sunday afternoons catching passes.
And he’s working hard to make his case.
Prior to joining the Titans as a seventh-round pick in 2010, Mariani ended his collegiate career as the most prolific receiver and all-purpose player in Montana history, setting school marks in career receiving yards (3,018) and receiving touchdowns (29). His 164 receptions and 200 career points rank seventh in the Grizzlies’ record book.
But playing fifth-string behind Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins with the Titans, Mariani’s opportunities have been limited on offense. His five career receptions for 24 yards all came last season, however, he’s hoping that will change.
With Britt still sidelined by knee issues and top draft pick Kendall Wright not yet signed, Mariani is receiving extra reps early on in training camp, an opportunity the third-year pro is looking to take full advantage of.
“Every rep I can get is huge for me,” Mariani said after Monday’s practice. “I don’t have a lot of game day experience, but playing against our DBs every day is the best competition I can get. They are top notch, so it’s making me better. I want to do the best I can with every rep I get and improve every day.”
Mariani, whose playing style has drawn comparisons to New England’s Wes Welker, said he took advantage of his first full NFL off-season, taking notes from veterans like Washington, while talking every day with receivers coach Dave Ragone.
“It’s been fun learning things from them to build my game,” Mariani said. “Now I’m out there working and not thinking as much, just playing fast and the game is coming to me a lot better. I’m just trying to improve and do my part so I can help out on Sundays.”
Head coach Mike Munchak said Mariani’s teammates have taken notice.
“The quarterbacks have confidence in him, I know that,” Munchak said. “I think he’s developed a confidence in himself that he knows how to make adjustments. He’s not limited to a couple of routes or couple of plays, maybe as we had last year with him. The confidence now is that he can do a lot more, and we’ll have to see what happens, especially during the preseason.”
The exhibition games will give Mariani an opportunity to prove he’s more than just a kick returner — even if he is one of the NFL’s best.
“Obviously, I’ve made my way in the return game so far, but I think of myself as a receiver,” Mariani said. “I’m a hard worker and I want to be out there catching passes on Sunday for sure. I’m extremely competitive and I want to be the best that I can be. It means a lot to me and I take pride in it.”
Tags: Marc Mariani
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