Marc Mariani’s first training camp with the Tennessee Titans, now nearly four years ago, was a difficult one.
At the time, Mariani was a seventh-round draft pick out of Montana and was considered a long shot to make the Titans’ 53-man roster his first time out.
But in fact, Mariani did make the roster that summer, and the rest of his rookie season is now part of impressive history, as the former Havre Blue Pony shattered Tennessee return records and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Now, in his fourth NFL training camp, Mariani is facing many of the same challenges he did in his first. After missing the entire 2012 season due to a broken leg Mariani is back is against the wall this month as he tries to re-claim his spot on not just the 53-man roster, but also as an integral part of a Titans’ team bent on returning to the winning ways they’ve missed out on the last couple of seasons.
And for Mariani, his comeback, after the devastating injury he suffered on ESPN’s Monday Night Football last August, things are off to a good start.
Mariani has been pushing himself basically since that injury happened last summer, and Saturday night, at LP Field in Nashville, that hard work took a big step in the right direction.
The Titans held a simulated game as part of an end to the first full week of training camp Saturday night, and Mariani caught the final touchdown of the evening. Mariani took a seam route pass from third-string quarterback Rusty Smith, turned up field and bolted for the endzone, which was a fitting end to the night, and a new beginning for the former Havre High great.
“It was good being back out there again,” Mariani told the Nashville media Saturday night. “I think the last time I was out there, I was carted off so it was a huge step in this whole thing, and all that hard work is starting to pay off little by little. I was definitely a little tired in that two-minute drill, but when I heard that play, I knew if they rolled over I would have a chance, so it was a good play for me. And to cross that goal line again and have that feeling was just another step.”
Mariani saw his most action of the 2013 training camp Saturday night. That included his work as a slot receiver, where he also turned a short pass from backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into a substantial gain, and some work returning kicks, which is a job he’s trying to reclaim after Darius Reynaud filled in admirably last season.
“It was fun to have some balls come my way. I think it was more of the situations that I got some opportunities,” Mariani said. “As this whole thing plays out and I get back in the swing of things, that’s definitely what I need. It’s tough to simulate live action, so to get some balls coming my way with ‘semi-live bullets’ was good for me. I think it’s a good step forward in where I’m going, and I was excited about today.”
And as his comeback continues, his head coach and teammates are taking notice. Mike Munchak told the media “Mariani looked pretty darn good” Saturday night, while veteran receiver Nate Washington was also impressed.
“Marc’s been working very hard to get back out there on the field, so to see him back out here in any form or fashion is definitely gratifying,” Washington said.
And Mariani feels gratified too. He’s pushed himself to the limit for nearly a year, all in hopes of getting back to playing for the Titans Sundays. He knows it’s a process, and one he’ll have to continue to fight for each day of training camp. But that scenario is nothing new to the former Grizzly walk-on.
And Saturday night’s TD catch, in front of several thousand members of Titan Nation, was a huge step in the right direction.
“Titan Nation has always been so dang good to me. I’m just blessed,” Mariani said. “It blows me away and humbles me every time I think about it, but just to have that support really kept me going through some of those days. They don’t know how much I appreciate that, and maybe I don’t say it enough, but it is moments like that where you can kind of just really have a different outlook and appreciation for Titan Nation and for the support and love coming my way. It gives you a little extra boost on days where you need it.”
Mariani and the Titans play their first preseason game Thursday night against the Washington Redskins.