NFL training camp is becoming old hat for former Havre Blue Pony and University of Montana standout Marc Mariani. But making it out of training camp and into the regular season is something Mariani is striving to do for the first time in three years.
Mariani, who signed a one-year contract with the Tennessee Titans in the spring, enters his fifth camp with Tennessee, which gets underway this afternoon at Baptist Sports Park in Nashville. And while he’s a veteran of camps now, he’s missed the last two full NFL regular seasons due to injuries.
Now, Mariani will try to re-earn his 53-man roster spot, both as a kick returner and a wide receiver, but it won’t be easy. The Titans signed star kick returner and slot receiver Dexter McCluster in the offseason and still have another Pro Bowl return man in Leon Washington on the roster as well.
At wide receiver, the Titans moved star Kenny Britt, as well as Damien Williams, but still have plenty of challengers for roster spots. Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and McCluster are all but assured of spots on the opening day roster in new head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s new-look offense. That will leave Mariani to battle the likes of Derek Hagan, Julian Horn, Michael Preston and Brian Robiskie for the remaining WR spots in what should be a more pass-friendly Titans’ offense.
But even after two years of frustration due to injuries and not playing in a regular season game since December of 2011, the 2010 Pro Bowl kick returner, and now Tennessee veteran looks forward to the challenges the next month will bring. He knows he has to go out and earn his spot on the 53-man roster, and finally healthy, he’s ready to meet that challenge head on.
“For a guy like me, training camp is the time when I have to make my plays, do my thing, just to try to make plays and earn a spot on this roster,” Mariani told the Nashville media recently. “I have to use the experiences of these last two years to my advantage. You know, because I got it all taken away. My career, the game was taken away from me the last two years, so you do look at it differently now. I got to look at it from the outside in, kind of feel what it feels like to be on the sidelines. I hate it. I don’t want to be there and I’m going to do everything I can to stay off that sideline.”
Mariani and the Titans report to camp today. Their first practice of the 2014 season is scheduled for Saturday morning. The Titans first preseason game is set for Aug. 9 against the Green Bay Packers at LP Field in Nashville. Tennessee also plays preseason games at New Orleans Aug. 15, at Atlanta Aug. 23 and home against Minnesota Aug. 28.