Sports, Thrill of Victory

Mariota taking on increased leadership role with Titans

Marcus Mariota should benefit from the arrival of Jones this season. PHOTO COURTESY DONN JONES/TENNESSEE TITANS

Marcus Mariota generally exudes a quiet demeanor. For this reason, the second-year quarterback enjoys being in Nashville, a relatively small city that is quieter than other NFL hubs like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

“[Having cameras follow you around], it’s not huge like that here in Nashville. For me I really like that … [Most people] just kind of say hello and just kind of ask how you’re doing and nothing more than that.”

Despite being naturally quiet, Mariota is no less of a leader. In fact, according to defensive end Jurrell Casey, the quarterback is an effective communicator.

Marcus Mariota will take on an increased leadership role with the Titans in 2016. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Marcus Mariota will take on an increased leadership role with the Titans in 2016. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

“[A lot of people] think he’s shy, quiet, but when he’s in the locker room, he’s communicating with everybody. I’d say he’s the definition of a true leader. He goes out there in practice, he works hard, and when he gets off that field, he’s in his playbook, and he’s coming around the locker room trying to bring everybody together.”

During OTAs and minicamp, a number of teammates said that Mariota has taken on an increased leadership role this season compared to last.

“I’ve seen him grow a lot,” said wideout Kendall Wright. “That’s going to benefit him and us as a team. It benefits us a lot when Marcus can go out there and be vocal and still be himself. That’s when he’s at his best.”

Mariota admits that the familiarity of being a second-year player makes him much more comfortable as one of the Titans’ commanding voices.

“I think this entire [season] will be a lot more comfortable. Going through it already for a year, seeing a lot of similar faces, understanding what’s expected of me. From that standpoint, we’ll feel comfortable, and I think it’s going to allow me to feel a lot more confident coming back into [training] camp, and just ready to roll.”

Despite his increased leadership role, Mariota has not taken on an increased ego. When asked if he runs the offense exactly as coordinator Terry Robiskie wishes, or if he challenges certain plays, Mariota responded as a quintessential pupil would.

“I trust the coaches entirely, and whatever they want me to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. Those coaches will always put us in good situations. We’ve just got to make the plays. And I’m going to do my best to execute.”

For Mariota, the 2016 season is one for improvement.

The quarterback set the tone at the start of OTAs when he arrived with five pounds of added muscle. Now weighing 225-pounds, Mariota hopes to play all sixteen games in 2016. He missed four games last year due to a knee injury.

During the first month of team activities Mariota addressed his weaknesses from last season — pass protection and the deep ball. In 2015, the Titans allowed the highest sack total in the league (54 sacks), and Mariota ranked 35th among quarterbacks for completing passes that travelled twenty or more yards in the air (16.7% completion).

In regards to pass protection, Mariota has been learning from his new center Ben Jones, a four-year veteran acquired from the Houston Texans during the most-recent free agency.

Mike Mularkey will be looking for big things out of Marcus Mariota this season. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Mike Mularkey will be looking for big things out of Marcus Mariota this season. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

“[Ben has] really helped me understand where my pressure looks are, where I can kind of slide the protection or get out of certain [situations].”

Jones and Mariota have a budding friendship. The two have played golf together several times, and according to Mariota, “It’s nice to just hang out, and learn more about each other, and from there just bring that up on the field.”

To improve his deep ball, Mariota has been practicing the play action fake, because a well-executed fake will open the field for a long pass.

“[Coach Mularkey is] always harping on us,” Mariota said, “making sure we’re selling the fake, getting our eyes around — just doing the little things, the little details that’ll just sell the handoff even more … If we continue to get better at it, it’s going to open up a lot of things for us.”

He also has been practicing the deep pass in one-on-one situations, where a single receiver faces off against a single cornerback down the field. According to Mariota, mastering these drills and the long pass are crucial for the Titans’ success next season.

“I think you have to have a deep passing game within your offense. It’s got to be incorporated in some form of fashion. You can’t just limit yourself to underneath routes and let the defense kind of sit on those things. I’m all for it. I love throwing the deep ball. It’s something that I’ve continued to work on, and I can always get better at. It’s going to help us out for sure if we can do that.”

During the team’s current break, Mariota plans to workout at his hometown in Hawaii and at his alma mater Oregon University. He then plans on “coming back to Nashville a little early, before [training] camp starts and getting a few practices in, just with the guys [to] make sure everything is fine-tuned.”