NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -
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.
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.
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.
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.