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Marc Mariani and Jason Babin: The unexpected Pro Bowlers

It’s been a season full of surprises for the Tennessee Titans. Unfortunately, the majority of the unexpected events have been of the negative variety, such as the team’s promising 5-2 start being destroyed by losses in 7 of their last 8 games.

Two of the positive surprises for the team has been the performance of two unlikely candidates to have big seasons in 2010: 7th round draft pick Marc Mariani and journeyman DE Jason Babin. Due to their stellar efforts on the gridiron, both Mariani and Babin were the only two Tennessee Titans named to the Pro Bowl earlier this week.

From the Big Sky to Honolulu: The Marc Mariani story

Regarded by most as an afterthought after being selected in the last round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Mariani was known more for being the college teammate of Jeff Fisher’s son than his football abilities. Sure, he put up great stats at Montana but considering his lack of size and the caliber of competition he faced in the Big Sky conference, the most optimistic of expectations surrounding Mariani was for him to make the practice squad.  

We found out pretty early that Mariani had the potential to accomplish much more. Through OTAs and extending through the preseason, Mariani proved himself worthy of the spot he eventually earned on the team’s opening day roster. Beating out fellow rookie Damian Williams as the team’s designated return specialist, Mariani established himself as one of the league’s top returners during the 2010 season, accomplishing feats such as being the only returner to take a kick and a punt return to the house this year while also breaking the franchise’s single-season mark for kickoff return yardage.

The Titans definitely found themselves a 7th round steal in Mariani and moving forward, I’m hoping that in addition to returning punts/kicks, he’ll get the opportunity to catch a pass or two on offense.

The right fit

Jason Babin always had the talent, but his potential was never fully realized until venturing to the city of Nashville. With the Titans, Babin was finally able to put his pass-rushing skills to good use as evidenced by his career-high 13 sacks and Pro Bowl invitation in 2010.

Fortunately for the Titans, Babin was quite a steal as a bargain-basement free agent acquisition last offseason. In a few months, in order to retain Babin, the price is going to be a little steeper. Due to his emergence, there’s definitely going to be some team out there willing to give him a well-deserved pay raise.

Hopefully, the Titans will make a solid offer and Babin will realize that he’s better off thriving in Tennessee’s system than taking a chance of venturing elsewhere only to see his newfound production suffer.

Once again, let’s extend kudos in the direction of Mariani and Babin for making the Pro Bowl.