Titans’ would-be Welker is on his way
With action-hero good looks, the humility of a Trappist monk and hands softer than the economy, Titans rookie wide receiver Marc Mariani is an easy guy to root for.
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No one in Middle Tennessee had ever heard of him before the Titans drafted him in the seventh round in April. And frankly, why would they have heard of him? Mariani toiled for Montana, and he had to walk on there just to get noticed. Here in the South we like our football heroes to be ready-made. We already know them because we’ve seen their high school highlight reels on the recruiting sites and watched them play on Saturdays in the SEC or ACC or Big 12 or Pac-10.
When you’re an all-state football player in Montana and you still have to walk on at Montana you have redefined being off the radar. But here Mariani is at Baptist Sports Park, genuinely thrilled for the opportunity that has been presented to him and doggedly determined to make the most of it.
“I’ve been trying to work my butt off,” Mariani said after a recent practice. “There’s a room full of great players in the receiver room. I just try to work hard and get better every day.”
The kid seems poised. If he’s over his head it hasn’t shown to anyone.
“I might be a pretty good actor,” Mariani said. “This is a different environment then what I’m used to, but I’m just having a great time enjoying the opportunity and I wanna make it last as long as I can.”
If he keeps catching everything within the 615 area code like he has so far he definitely has a chance to stick on the roster. The comparisons to a certain New England Patriots wide receiver (pictured) are only natural. Like Wes Welker, Mariani plays in the slot and already has earned a camp reputation as an excellent route runner with deceptive speed and sure hands.
He and fellow rookie Alterraun Verner, a cornerback and the Titans’ fourth-round pick, have become fast friends in spite of or because of lining up against each other every day.
“It’s a friendly rivalry,” Verner said. “You see him do it to everybody. He’s making plays all over the field – one-on-one, seven-on-seven, team, in his sleep, everywhere. I brag about him all the time.
“I like the way he runs his routes. It’s making me better. You can’t guess with him because he’s so sharp and gets in and out of his breaks so well it keeps you honest. When you go against other people it’s almost easier because they don’t run the routes as precisely.”
Mariani even is wearing No. 83, Welker’s number, though he said it’s just a coincidence. What’s not a coincidence is Mariani said he has studied Welker among other receivers on whom he has watched film.
“He’s so quick and his second-level releases … he’s deceivingly fast I would say and he just makes plays,” Mariani said. “He’s a good dude to watch and learn from.”
Ultimately Mariani is flattered by the too-soon comparison.
“If I can have the success he’s had I won’t get sick of it at all.”