Titans WR returns year after gruesome leg injury

Marc Mariani has a scar that runs from the outside of his left
ankle up to his calf and another scar on the inside of his leg. If
he ever sets off an airport metal detector, he need only point to
his lower leg where the scars tell the story of the metal rod
inside the skin and muscle.

Still, the Titans receiver and returner has no worries about his
leg. Mariani can’t wait until Thursday night for Tennessee’s
preseason opener against the Washington Redskins and his first NFL
game since the gruesome injury nearly a year ago on this field.

”The way it is now and rebuilt, it’ll never feel the exact same
again. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do everything and won’t be as
fast,” Mariani said of his leg.

”It has motivated me to a different level. As far as sitting on
the sidelines and just wanting to be back on game day and wanting
to be back out with the guys I haven’t felt sitting on the
sidelines in forever. So sitting on the sideline was a huge
motivational factor for me and has all added up to this
moment.”

Injuries are a part of the NFL, and the Redskins have their big
comeback story too in Robert Griffin III returning from major knee
surgery. But the quarterback is expected to sit out the preseason
to make sure he’s recovered fully by the time the regular season
starts.

”That’s the way I have to look at it, so I’m not going to
really going to fret too much the preseason games because the goal
is for a long career and to play Week 1,” Griffin said. ”I think
the preseason is valuable, but at the same time if you do not need
to be in the preseason, you don’t have to do it and that’s my
situation. Everyone has a different situation.”

Like Mariani.

His injury was so gruesome that it seemed he might never play
football again, even though he had gone from a seventh-round draft
pick out of Montana to a Pro Bowl kick returner in 2010 as a
rookie.

Both the tibia and fibula snapped in his leg at the end of a
punt return Aug. 23 in a preseason game against Arizona, an injury
so ugly that trainers and a doctor quickly wrapped it with a
pressure dressing and an air cast to help get him off the field and
to a hospital for surgery.

Adrenaline, his sock and tape kept Mariani from seeing too much
of the blood caused by bone poking through skin.

”It was brutal,” Mariani said. ”But no more so the fear of
not being able to perform up to where I’m at was kind of the only
thing that scared me. And I had it in the back of my mind, not
haunted me, it was always an unknown. Will this ever come back to
the way it used to be and all those things.”

Luckily, most of the damage was to bone, so doctors inserted a
rod to strengthen his leg. Healing took time. Muscles in his lower
leg had to be rebuilt along with flexibility in his ankle, and
exercises included simply using his toes to pick up marbles until
he got to the point where he could start walking again, then
running.

Surprisingly, Mariani was on the field with the Titans this
offseason taking part in organized team activities and minicamp. He
pushed himself hard that minicamp and found his leg easily handled
the stresses of football.

Now Mariani finds himself in his toughest position battle yet.
The Titans are their deepest at receiver possibly since relocating
to Tennessee in 1997 after signing veteran Kevin Walter and
drafting Justin Hunter at receiver. At returner, Darius Reynaud
returned two punts for touchdown and set a franchise record
returning a kickoff 105 yards for another TD last year during
Mariani’s absence.

Mariani said his mindset doesn’t change. He knows he has an
opportunity now that most players don’t realize until their careers
are over of getting back on the field.

”I know if I can get healthy and do my thing and make plays and
take advantage of my opportunity, things will fall into place for
me and I’ll be all right,” Mariani said.

After all, bones heal even if they need a little help.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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