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VOL. 39 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 18, 2015

Mariota not only young Titan with big season-opening games

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Tennessee rookie linebacker Deiontrez Mount (53) runs over Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston after intercepting a screen pass thrown by the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Mount’s play was one of many oustanding plays by first- and second-year Tennessee players.

-- Ap Photo/Scott Audette

In the wake of such a successful start, it is difficult not to hail Marcus Mariota as the “next big thing” and the savior of the Tennessee Titans franchise.

Certainly one game into his professional career, Mariota looked the part and more – throwing for four touchdown passes to four different receivers.

It added up to a perfect passer rating for last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and has everyone from Titans fans to fantasy football owners clamoring for more and asking what’s next for the rookie from Oregon.

Mariota and the Titans certainly got the best of Jameis Winston during Sunday’s 42-14 rout, and it appears Mariota could get to duel another former Heisman winner this Sunday when the Titans head to Cleveland and likely will face Johnny Manziel.

But before we go all in on Mariota – hey, we could write about him every week – let’s examine something else that kind of flew under the radar in Tampa Bay but is absolutely noteworthy going forward as the Titans try to rebuild from the rubble of last year’s 2-14 debacle.

Mariota wasn’t the only young guy on the roster who made a sizable contribution on Sunday.

The Titans had eight other rookies active (guard Quinton Spain was inactive) and contributing, and more than a third of the roster was different from last year.

“We played 18 guys that it was the first time they played for the Titans yesterday,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “That’s a lot. Some of them were rookies; some of them were obviously veterans that we had signed.”

That is a drastic change from last year’s moribund team that had a roster filled with 30-somethings like Shaun Phillips, Kam Wimbley and others who were on their way out of the league.

A quick check of the 2015 Titans roster shows only seven of the 53 players are 30 or older.

And these 30-somethings – including like Delanie Walker, Harry Douglas and Michael Griffin – are still contributing as front-line players.

This youth movement should have Titans fans excited about 2015 and beyond.

At the end of last year, there didn’t appear to be many young pieces in place to build around beyond tackle Taylor Lewan, Avery Williamson, Jurrell Casey and Kendall Wright.

But on Sunday, while Mariota made headlines, a number of other young players were quietly getting in on the act.

There was the solid play of rookie right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, also playing in his first NFL game.

And the athletic interception by sixth round pick Deiontrez Mount of a Winston pass.

Fourth round pick Angelo Blackson had one of the Titans’ four sacks, playing in his first NFL game, as well.

Second-year man DaQuan Jones, who basically had a redshirt season as a rookie a year ago, was Tennessee’s leading tackler with seven solo stops on the day.

There was the running of recent trade pickup Terrance West, who combined with holdover (and fellow second-year pro) Bishop Sankey to provide a nice one-two punch in the running game, something that was lacking a year ago when the Titans ranked 26th of 30 teams.

The play of the day on special teams came from backup tight end Phillip Supernaw, a street free agent the Titans signed during the middle of the off-season as an afterthought.

As the Titans move forward and try to reclaim a place among the relevant teams in the NFL again, much of the focus will be on Mariota – as it should be.

It’s a quarterback-driven league and the Titans are proof positive from years past that without a franchise quarterback, the sledding is tough.

But even great quarterbacks need a supporting cast, and if the Titans are going to improve, then the necessary contributions from a lot of the other young players on the roster has to continue to progress throughout the season.

So while all eyes will be on Mariota again this week against the Browns, and probably will be for the remainder of his rookie season, it is worth a glance at the other players on the field as well to see how the remainder of this young roster is shaping up for 2015.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for 247 Sports NFL Insider.

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