Before he went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie return specialist with the Tennessee Titans, Marc Mariani was a wide receiver at the University of Montana. In 52 career games, Mariani caught 164 passes for 3,018 yards and 29 touchdowns, including 80 receptions for 1,479 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior.
Mariani has been active for all 32 games during his career, but has yet to record his first NFL reception. In fact, Mariani has only been thrown to twice during his career -- both attempts came on screen passes in 2010 that were broken up by the opposition. Even with the Titans' injuries at the receiver position last year, Mariani did not log a single snap on offense.
"He just makes plays," Munchak said of Mariani's offseason performance. "In practice here, he's one of the guys that when the ball went up, it seemed like he came down with it, or he found a way to get open. His routes were sharp, or he was getting out of his routes well. He was fun to watch. I think the quarterbacks had a lot of confidence in him."
Despite Mariani's development this offseason -- which isn't wholly unexpected, considering all 2010 and 2011 draft choices were denied a critical offseason last year -- he faces an uphill struggle to snag one of the top four spots in the Titans' receiving corps. Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and first-round pick Kendall Wright are all a lock for the top three spots. Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins, who each caught 45-plus balls last season, are also ahead of him on the depth chart. Barring an amazing performance in the preseason, Mariani appears confined to a return-specialist role this season.