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VOL. 40 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 9, 2016

Away 2 years, Mariani likes what he sees on return

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Marc Mariani, a college walk-on at Montana, was a surprise success after being drafted in the seventh round by the Titans in 2010. He went to the Pro Bowl that year as a kick returner, setting Pro Bowl records for number of returns and return yards. He missed 2012 after breaking a leg in a preseason game.

-- Ap Photo/Joe Howell

The Tennessee Titans have spent the off-season distancing themselves from their not-so-glorious recent past.

That much is evident when you consider that now only 10 of 30 draft choices made by former general manager Ruston Webster remain on the 2016 Titans roster, and that the roster has been turned over by 40 percent from just a year ago.

But on Monday, the Titans did the unusual and reached into that recent past to re-sign kick returner/wide receiver Marc Mariani, who had been cut loose by the Chicago Bears just a few days ago.

In the two years he was away in the Windy City, the Titans didn’t do a whole lot, winning just five of 32 games in that span. So it’s no wonder that new general manager Jon Robinson has been busy this summer jettisoning so many players from that listless era.

But when Mariani made his way back into St. Thomas Sports Park, the old fan favorite noticed plenty of things had changed in Titans land.

“A lot of things were similar, a lot of teammates and stuff. But that aside, they’ve kind of wiped the slate clean from when I was here,” Mariani says. “The hallway, the locker room, the philosophy, even outside on the practice field, all these changes. You look around and you get excited.

“It’s kind of cliché, but you can see the whole time that they’ve kind of got something special going on, and you could see from when you walked in the door and started talking to people. There’s a great vibe around the building. Regardless of my time here before, I’m so excited to be here. I think we’re going in a good direction.”

Part of that “good direction” is the edict from Robinson and head coach Mike Mularkey that players be accountable and reliable in whatever task they perform on the field.

Make no mistake, the homecoming for Mariani isn’t just some trip down memory lane. If the Titans didn’t feel like the veteran receiver could perform the kick return duties capably, there would be no second tour of duty in Nashville.

The truth is, Mariani has lost some of the explosiveness he had as a Pro Bowl rookie in 2010 with the Titans. The gruesome leg injury he sustained in the 2012 can be blamed for some of that.

But the Titans want the football in capable, trusted hands on returns, and Mariani certainly can offer that.

Mularkey obviously would prefer Mariani camped under a kick than less-untested players like Tre McBride or rookie Kevin Byard.

“Right now, absolutely. I know that about Marc (Mariani). Jon (Robinson) does, our team does and we feel good,” Mularkey says. “I mean I know we feel better today than we did two days ago about our return game.”

A team as young as the Titans can probably use the sprinkling of veteran leadership that guys like Mariani and others on the roster can offer. His skills are important, but so is his attitude and approach as the Titans begin to erase the stench of a losing culture.

“I was here with Marc in 2014. I know what he’s done in the past,” Mularkey says. “Really, his return ability is what we were looking at. Really it gives us somebody in both areas that we can use as a returner that has been to the Pro Bowl because of it. He’s had a lot of success.

“It was good for this team. This team is excited to have him back. I think the fans will be, as well. He’s one of these guys we’ve been talking about – tough, dependable and team-first. He fits right in with us right away.”

Mariani admits it’s good to be “home,” though that is only part of the equation.

“It’s easy to see that I really love this place. (Coming back) was something I always thought was a dream. Now that it’s happened, it seemed kind of surreal at first, but all that aside, I’ve got a job to do and hopefully I’ll be successful,” he says.

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