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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