Tough path to roster for Marc Mariani

Marc Mariani is an eminently likeable guy. An underdog drafted out of Montana who made a Pro Bowl as a return man in 2010 when he was a rookie.

In 2012 he suffered a gruesome broken leg in the preseason. In 2013 the Tennessee Titans put him on IR before the season with a shoulder injury.

An unrestricted free agent this offseason, he just received a one-year deal from the Titans.

But like the comeback from the leg, earning a spot on the 53-man roster is going to be very difficult.

Mariani is best as a returner, but the Titans have Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington on the team and both of them rate as significantly better.

Mariani is also a receiver. At this point he ranks well behind Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington. Michael Preston should also be ahead of him. McCluster is a running back, but he’ll be a pass-catcher out of the backfield and out of the slot, so his presence might mean the Titans go a little thinner at receiver.

Tennessee could draft a guy and/or re-sign the more versatile Damian Williams.

Mariani is a slot guy, and Wright and McCluster are slot guys.

A No. 3 return man and a No. 3 slot receiver is a long shot to stick when the roster gets trimmed to 53.

“Honestly, it’s never been easy for me," he told The Tennessean. "Anywhere in the NFL, you’re not going to be handed anything. So I think competition only makes the entire team stronger,” Mariani said. “I know Leon is a highly respected guy and Dexter is also a highly touted guy, as far as how explosive he is and all those things he brings to the table.

“So there’s going to be some putting together of the pieces. But I’m stoked about the opportunity to compete. I feel like I’m back at Square 1 and proving myself to everyone that I can play at this level.”

He’ll have a ton of people rooting for him. But he’ll need a heck of a camp and, probably, an injury to someone else, to make it back on the field for the Titans in a regular-season game.