NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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.”
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.
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)