KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee Titans wide receiver and kick returner Marc Mariani faces a stiff challenge coming back from the gruesome leg injury that sidelined him all of last season.
"There's a lot of adversity that I've overcome, and there's a lot more that's in front of me," Mariani said during a stop on the Titans caravan that takes selected team members across the state and into Alabama and Kentucky. "I welcome it."
Mariani broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg at the end of a punt return in an exhibition game with the Arizona Cardinals last summer. Replays showed his leg snapping near the calf as he went to the ground, where he remained for several minutes.
The injury was similar to the one that Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware sustained during an NCAA tournament victory over Duke in March. The difference is that the tape on Mariani's ankle covered the bone that was sticking out of his leg.
"Even lying on the field right after it happened, you question it, you wonder, you doubt," Mariani said. "Mentally, it's a hard hurdle to get over. Will I be OK again? Is it going to heal correctly? All those things. It was difficult, but there was so much support, so much backing that I had. It made it easier."
Mariani, 26, has since made an impressive recovery. He hopes to participate in some of the Titans' organized team activities during the offseason and wants to be back on a full-scale basis by the start of training camp.
He doesn't have any time to waste.
"I know I have to have a good camp this year," Mariani said. "It's been a battle, but it's been a great learning experience."
The recovery from his injury isn't the only test facing Mariani this offseason. He's facing improved competition.
The Titans have boosted their receiving corps by signing free agent Kevin Walter and trading up in the draft to select Justin Hunter in the second round. The Titans also return Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Kenny Britt and Damian Williams, who each caught at least 30 passes last season.
"The competition will be really good," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "They're going to be competing for six or seven spots, and we feel we probably have nine or 10 guys that can probably play in the National Football League."
The Titans also re-signed running back Darius Reynaud, who can compete with Mariani as a returner. Reynaud scored twice on punt returns and once on a kickoff return last season. Mariani made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2010.
"In every room, we have stacked competition, which is awesome," Mariani said. "It's going to make us so much better. It will be interesting. It will be fun. I know I have my work cut out for me, but I'm not worrying about it. I know if I just take care of myself and do my thing and do what I do, things will fall into place."
Mariani already is accustomed to beating the odds.
The former seventh-round draft pick from Montana not only made the Titans' roster but also reached the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Now he wants to show he can come back from a career-threatening injury.
He's pleased with his progress thus far. He credits a support system that includes Titans assistant athletic trainer Casey Carter, strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson and assistant to strength and conditioning coach Jason Novak.
"I pretty much try everything," Mariani said. "If it hurts or if I have to lean back off it, I try it again in a week. It's just one thing after another. It's just small victories that have gotten me through."
Mariani understands that other athletes are going through the same types of situations. He was watching the NCAA tournament on television when he saw Ware get injured in a similar manner. Mariani said he has since touched base with Ware to offer an idea of what to expect in the ensuing months.
"All that's been communicated is I can be a resource for him," Mariani said. "I just went through it. He was playing at an elite level. I hope to be back at an elite level shortly. Basically what I tried to say is the light may seem dim, but it's there. You've got to push through it. He has a lot of support and great resources as well. He'll be back out there."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)