Marcus Mariota’s maturation process as an NFL quarterback and in the Tennessee Titans new offensive system continues. Now it sounds as if head coach Mike Vrabel wants his quarterback to trust himself enough to just be himself and play football.
That sounds simple, but sometimes hesitance or overthinking can be a player’s worst enemy, something the quarterback may have been guilty of in last Saturday's preseason game.
Mariota and Corey Davis failed to hook up on a third-down pass last week in Pittsburgh where it appeared that Davis saw no safety over the top and changed his route, only to have Mariota throw the ball short, likely to the spot where Davis normally would have gone to. Both players and Vrabel claimed blame for the incompletion.
Even in learning a new system, Vrabel said he wants Mariota to still improvise at times, especially when the pocket breaks down for a mobile quarterback.
“We have got to make that a strength so that when other teams look at us they’re like when they look at Aaron Rodgers. If this guy gets out of the pocket, it could be a touchdown or a big play,” Vrabel said. “We need to make sure that that’s something we’re able to do, so that teams are like, when this guy gets out of the pocket, it could be lights out. It could be a big play, or better yet, it could be a touchdown. That’s certainly something we have to make a strength of ours and focus on.”
Mariota said he is confident that he is seeing the field and seeing the open man, and that he understands that at certain times he needs to be aggressive without forcing things – something he may have done when throwing across his body on an interception in Pittsburgh.
“I honestly think that I'm seeing everything. For the most part, you're not going to make every read. That's kind of just the realistic part of playing the position,” he said. “At the same time, when it is available, I feel like I've done a decent job of finding a guy that's open. With that being said, taking care of the football is always the most important. Understanding when to be aggressive and when not to are things that I can always get better at.”
Mariota has made many spectacular plays with his legs when the pocket has broken down, and that should be an important part of his game again, now that he is back healthier than in 2017 when he was coming off surgery for a broken fibula.
“At the same time, I think (it helps) being able to be aggressive running the football as well. Once you get out of the pocket, making a quick decision to either throw it or to try and go and get some yards down the field. It's a happy medium, and I think that being able to get in the game to experience those scenarios will help,” he said.
Even in learning a new system, it appears that Vrabel wants his quarterback to be confident and comfortable and let his talents and instincts take over on the field. When that happens, sometimes even broken plays can turn into big ones.
“You’ve got to be able to say, ‘Cut it loose. Go play the game and let your God-given ability take over.’ You’ll know when it’s time to keep it and you’ll know when it’s time to take a chance and may be turn it into 25 yards,’” Vrabel said.
Mariota has also been without his two most reliable targets in Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker for most or all of the preseason. But both should be ready when the season opens on Sept. 9 in Miami.
“I think that the chemistry that we built over the years really helps from the standpoint of the fact that whether it is body language - I understand how he is getting in and out of his cuts, those things are built over time,” Mariota said. “It doesn't really matter what the routes are. We've got a good feel for these guys. That's what is going to help Rishard and Delanie and the rest of this offense. “