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Some painstaking analysis by Marino

When it comes to rehabbing QBs, Dan Marino can relate. He recovered from a torn Achilles’. When it comes to rehabbing QBs, Dan Marino can relate. He recovered from a torn Achilles’. (File/Associated Press)
By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / September 10, 2009

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NEW YORK - Dan Marino was 32 years old when he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon while dropping back to pass against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 10, 1993. The Miami Dolphins’ iconic quarterback’s season was over, and his professional future was in doubt.

Tom Brady has spent the last year in a similar position. He’s 32, coming back from a severe knee injury that cost him the entire 2008 season (save for 7 minutes 33 seconds) and determined to prove that none of the ability that has made him one of the all-time elite quarterbacks was left behind on the operating table.

Marino’s diagnosis might have been different, but his injury was as devastating and his journey back to an NFL huddle was as arduous. Which puts him among the few who can truly comprehend the challenges Brady will face this season.

So Marino’s perspective should reassure Patriots fans. The Hall of Famer, who turns 48 Tuesday and is entering his ninth season on CBS’s “The NFL Today,’’ is confident that Brady will be everything he was before the injury.

“I’ve been in that position before, having to come off injuries, and I believe he’s going to come out smoking, I really do believe it,’’ said Marino during the network’s recent NFL media day. “He’s going to want to prove something, and I don’t care what happened in the preseason, the preseason is overrated. When he comes out there for the first game, he’ll be ready and rolling.’’

Marino, who played six seasons and earned two Pro Bowl berths after his injury, said he expects Brady to shake off whatever rust he has before viewers even recognize it’s there.

“Your body and your game quickly adjust to what it physically can do,’’ said Marino. “As far as throwing the football and being smart and knowing what to do and being a tough guy, that’s all there. That’s always going to be there.

“And he’s one of the best ever inside the pocket, at making people miss, in the small areas. One or two steps of adjustment, one way or the other, while being able to keep your eyes down the field and make throws. There aren’t a lot of guys in the league, very, very few, that you can say are really good at that. That was always an advantage for me, it’s the same for Tom now, and he’s not going to lose that even after the injury.’’

While Marino was one of many NFL analysts for CBS who consider the Patriots a Super Bowl contender, one of his peers on the studio show said he is not yet convinced about Brady’s return to prominence.

“Hey, Dan played the position. I didn’t play the position,’’ said the ever-loquacious Shannon Sharpe, the former tight end who is beginning his sixth season on “NFL Today.’’ “But if you don’t get a chance to do what you can do during preseason, who’s to say that you’ll get to the regular season and just be able to turn it on? I’m sure he wants to say, ‘I’m going to put my foot in the dirt and throw this 20-yard in-cut,’ and do it without thinking about anything else going on around him. He can’t be worrying about the guys rolling around near him in the dirt. Because during the season, he needs to know that the knee is fine.

“Will he throw 30-plus touchdowns? No question in my mind. Will he throw for 3,500-4,000 yards? No question in my mind. Are they one of the four best teams in the AFC? No question in my mind. But I think early on, he’s going to have some major reservations about that knee that he needs to answer. Do I think he’ll be fine? Yes, eventually. But I’m going to be watching him in the first two or three games in the pocket to see that.’’

The Patriots are slated to play on CBS nine times this season, beginning Sept. 20 at the New York Jets. The Patriots, however, will open their season on ESPN Monday night against Terrell Owens and the Buffalo Bills. It is the first of two Monday night games, the other Nov. 30 at New Orleans.

Patriots-Bills will mark the official booth debut of the charismatic Jon Gruden, the former Buccaneers coach who sounded like a natural during the preseason. He replaced Tony Kornheiser, whose famous dry wit rarely surfaced during his three seasons on “Monday Night Football,’’ alongside holdovers Mike Tirico (play by play) and Ron Jaworski (color).While CBS’s broadcast teams remained largely intact - Marino and Sharpe will again be joined in studio by host James Brown and fellow analysts Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason - there have been significant changes elsewhere.

Most notably, the legendary John Madden retired after 31 seasons in the booth. He was replaced on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football’’ by Cris Collinsworth, who last year was one of what seemed like dozens of analysts on the network’s “Football Night in America’’ studio show. Collinsworth also served as the color analyst on the NFL Network’s live game package. That role will be filled by Matt Millen, who earned plaudits as a broadcaster before becoming the president and CEO of the Detroit Lions in 2000.

A pair of recently retired Patriots will be debuting behind the microphone. Rodney Harrison, who retired in June after 15 NFL seasons, joins former Colts coach Tony Dungy as additions to NBC’s “Football Night in America.’’ And Tedy Bruschi, who called it a career last week after 13 seasons with the Patriots, was quickly snapped up as an analyst by ESPN. Bruschi, who will also provide content and analysis to the soon-to-launch ESPN Boston website, will debut on “NFL Live’’ today at 4 p.m.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com.

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