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Titans' Mariani has eye on expanded role

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Posted March 17, 2011 @ 12:09 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Like other NFL players, Titans WR Marc Mariani is trying to decide how to fill the time in an offseason that could lack its usual structure. With NFL owners locking out players, official team workouts are out of the picture. For now, Mariani, who attended Montana and is from Havre, Montana, is out West — PFW caught up with him this week as he drove from Missoula, Montana to Boise, Idaho — but he could head back to Nashville to work out at a training facility.

Wherever he trains, Mariani, who turns 24 in early May and who made the Pro Bowl as a kickoff and punt returner last season, has a clear goal for 2011 — carving out a role on offense as a slot receiver.

"That's what I'm working for," Mariani told PFW Tuesday.

A seventh-round pick in 2010, Mariani won the Titans' returning jobs in training camp and emerged as one of the NFL's top kickoff and punt returners, averaging 25.5 yards on kickoffs, 12.2 yards on punts and returning one of each for touchdowns. He played sparingly on offense, however, with no catches, though he was targeted twice. (He did have two carries in the Pro Bowl for the AFC team on reverses in a blowout loss to the NFC.)

The Titans' offense will have a different look in 2011, and perhaps significantly so. New head coach Mike Munchak has tabbed Chris Palmer to replace Mike Heimerdinger as offensive coordinator. Moreover, the team is committed to moving on without QB Vince Young. With Palmer hired on Feb. 15 and the lockout commencing, Mariani noted that the offense hasn't had much opportunity to start implementing the new scheme.

"We haven't got to work together hardly at all," he said.

Mariani believes that the new coaching staff will be willing to give him a look on offense.  

"That's all I really want to do is compete and have a shot," he said.

For Mariani, it has been "an all-around wild year," as he put it. There was the high of being drafted by the Titans, then coached by Jeff Fisher, whose son, Brandon, played with Mariani at Montana. There was the excitement of making the team, earning an important role on special teams and playing for a club that started the ’10 season by winning five of its first seven games. And there was the Pro Bowl, something he thought "was never in the realm of possibility" as a rookie, where he relished playing and interacting with the NFL's elite.

On the downside, the Titans faltered after their fast start. Heimerdinger was diagnosed with cancer. Then, Fisher, who played such a major role in Mariani getting his break, lost his job, as did Heimerdinger.  

In many ways, the Titans are starting over in 2011. Mariani sees a team loaded with talent that needs to recapture the form that propelled the Titans to a fast start last season.

"We really need to come together," he said.

As for Mariani, he makes it clear that while 2010 was a whirlwind ride, he wants to build on the progress he made as a rookie. His Montana career provides a blueprint to follow. Mariani entered the program as a walk-on, initially made a name for himself on special teams, earned a scholarship and a starring role on offense as a junior and set the school single-season record for receiving yards as a senior.

"I couldn't be more excited, but I'm definitely not satisfied," he said. 

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