In some ways, former Havre High standout Marc Mariani knew exactly what to expect this time around. But in others, it was like starting all over again.
Mariani is now one full week into his second NFL training camp with the Tennessee Titans, and while he’s no longer a rookie, the 2010 Pro Bowler, like the rest of his Titans’ teammates, has plenty to learn.
Tennessee is under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Munchak and with that comes a new offensive scheme. There are also new quarterbacks in camp, including former Seattle Seahawk Matt Hasslebeck and the Titans’ first-round draft pick, University of Washington star Jake Locker.
So with all the new things comes new challenges for Mariani – learning a new offense, a new playbook, adapting to new quarterbacks, and getting accustomed to a new head coach.
Also new is Mariani’s continued quest to become a bigger part of Tennessee’s offensive schemes. Mariani broke into the NFL as a star kick returner last season, not only earning a spot in the Pro Bowl, but also shattering the Titans’ single season return records on kickoffs and punts. Still, Mariani didn’t have a single ball thrown to him last season, and that’s something that could change this season.
Mariani, who is statistically the greatest receiver to ever play at the University of Montana, has been impressing in training camp so far, making several quality catches during practice sessions all last week. And just like he did for the Grizzlies, he’s making Titans’ coaches take notice of his receiving skills, his great pass catching ability, his shifty moves and his precise route running ability, and his overall football intelligence.
“He’s been fun. That guy makes plays, he’s one of those guys that’s got a feel for the game and I think Chris (Palmer, Titans O-Coordinator) has taken a good look to give him a little more reps in there so he can get some confidence and maybe he can help us in other ways than just return the game,” Munchak said after a recent Titans’ practice. “So, that’s what he’s been doing, and you know as I said he’s crafty, he has a feel for the game, and he can help us any time he’s on the field; he’s that kind of guy. So, I think we’re just going to find stuff he’s good at, so we know that when we’re going into the game that there’s maybe certain things he can do for us.”
And those are the types of praise from a head coach any young player vying for playing time likes to hear, and will continue to build upon as training camp goes on. And while no one in Tennessee is undervaluing Mariani’s importance as the Titans’ return man, many are starting to take notice that there’s much more to the Havre Blue Pony than just returning kicks.
Still, as training camp got under way after a lengthy and frustrating NFL Lockout, Mariani was his usual self. Excited to be back in the lockerroom, excited about being back at work and out on the football field, and excited about working hard, doing what’s asked of him and helping the Titans in any way he can.
“I’m excited and optimistic about what we have going here,” Mariani said in a recent lockeroom press conference. “We’re having fun, we’re all working hard. There’s a lot of new terminology, a new playbook, but it’s been really fun to see it all unfolding, to see it coming together as quickly as it has. So I’m excited about and optimistic about the season and the goals we’re trying to achieve.”
Mariani Notes: Mariani was one of a handful of Titans who hand delivered season ticket packages to season ticket holders in the Nashville area recently. Mariani’s highlight video where he returned his first career kickoff for a score last year against the Denver Broncos is currently the first thing fans see when they visit the Titans’ team website. Tennessee’s first preseason game is Aug. 13 at LP Field against the Minnesota Vikings.