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VOL. 40 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 19, 2016

Credit Mariota’s maturity for Murray touchdown run

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota delivers the ball to running back DeMarco Murray during Saturday’s preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, a game won by the Titans 27-10. Murray, in his first season with the Titans, had 93 yards and a touchdown on six carries.

-- Ap Photo/James Kenney

One of the most electrifying plays of the Tennessee Titans preseason opening win should make fans feeling much better about the team for the coming season.

DeMarco Murray’s 71-yard touchdown run seemed to answer questions as to whether the veteran running back has anything left after struggling last season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But there is another part of the equation that should be even more encouraging for the Titans than just Murray’s breakaway run: Marcus Mariota’s quick recognition of the Chargers defense is actually what helped make the play successful.

Mariota, just beginning his second NFL season at quarterback, saw a threat in the defensive alignment and communicated with wide receiver Harry Douglas to adjust his blocking assignment.

“It was Marcus who put them in that position for that play to happen,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey revealed. “I’ve seen Harry do that a number of times, but Marcus started the whole process for that play to develop like it did.”

Naturally, Mariota gave more of the credit to Douglas after the game.

“Harry Douglas and I kind of communicated that they were going to bring some pressure off the edge. He did a great job just kind of coming down making that key block that sprung the play,” Mariota said.

But spreading the credit, just like spreading around the football, is what a quarterback is supposed to do. That’s why “me” guys don’t become franchise quarterbacks very often.

Add the fact that Mariota did this entirely on his own, since the Titans were operating in a two-minute offense, and you get the idea of just how far the quarterback has advanced in learning a somewhat altered system from a year ago.

It also dispels the notion that a quarterback coming from Oregon’s spread offense would have trouble adjusting to a pro-style scheme, with opposing defensive coordinators putting in complex tricks to confuse him.

Yes, Mariota throws a nice ball. But if that was the only requirement to be a competent pro quarterback, the Titans could have just hung on to Zach Mettenberger.

The Titans like Mariota’s mobility, and they will allow him to run more as long as they can keep him out of harm’s way.

But the real reason Mariota has a chance to become a true franchise quarterback was demonstrated on that run play – something that would have largely gone unnoticed except for Mularkey’s praise of Mariota a day later.

“We were in a no-huddle situation right there. He put us in that play. Once we were in that play, he recognized there is a threat that could possibly be coming off the slot, bring Harry down here, take away that threat and see what happens after that,” Mularkey said.

It is probably even more telling that Mariota has done this while working for his second head coach, his second offensive coordinator and his second system in just his second season. Those changes could have easily set Mariota back in year two. Titans fans remember how a revolving door of offensive schemes hurt Jake Locker’s growth, not to mention his failure to recognize a blitz in Houston that landed him on the shelf with a separated shoulder.

And let’s not even go there on the lack of detail in Vince Young’s study habits.

There no doubt will still be growing pains for a young quarterback like Mariota. That is simply life in the NFL, making a mistake, seeing a new look and learning from it so as not to repeat it.

As a rookie, there were issues with his huddle command and with the play-call verbiage, which has been simplified this year.

Now Mariota is earning the trust of his coaches and teammates, which translates into him leading the offense.

“That’s how far he’s come. We have a lot of confidence that he’s going to put us in the right situation,” Mularkey said.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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