The Tennessee Titans took a big step forward in 2017 by making the postseason and winning a playoff game. But, if the team is going to take the next step and become a serious contender in the American Football Conference (AFC) this year, new head coach Mike Vrabel needs a similar leap from fourth-year quarterback Marcus Mariota. After inheriting a dumpster fire in his first year, Mariota’s gone 18-14 as a starter, including last year’s playoffs.
Going into his fourth season, Mariota remains a mystery. There have been plenty of positives, but now it’s time for Mariota to secure a monster contract and show he’s a top-tier quarterback. As the No.2 overall NFL draft pick, he displayed flashes of star power during his rookie year. The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner finished his 12-game, 2015 rookie year with 2,818 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and ten interceptions. Additionally, he rushed for 252 yards with two rushing touchdowns.
He exploded on the scene in his second year, stepping up as a bona fide star. Mariota connected on 61% of his passes for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Cutting down on turnovers was the biggest improvement he made, reducing fumbles despite playing three more games (15) in 2016.
This past season, everything seemed primed for Mariota to establish himself as a franchise quarterback. However, he took several steps backwards in several aspects. Turnovers once again became a major problem for the talented performer. His completion percentage (62.0) and yardage total (3,232) were similar to 2016. But, with 13 TD passes and 15 interceptions, it’s hard to look past his faltering play, even with leading his team to the playoffs. His turnovers add up to 46 in 42 regular-season contests. That level of performance won’t do, even if making the playoffs. Both the quarterback, QB coach Pat O’Hara and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur certainly have work to do in this area, but Mariota remains positive.
“It’s been great,” Mariota said. “Pat and Matt have been awesome. They’ve been tremendous in (continuing) to work fundamentals. At the same time, helping us learn the offense in a way that’s easy and just makes it so that everything is pretty smooth. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to them, I think they’ve done a great job so far. Again, as we progress forward there’s always going to be some bumps in the road, but I think these guys have done a great job of handling everything.”
More encouraging news comes from the fact Mariota is reportedly finally fully healthy from his fractured right fibula. His athletic ability is back to Oregon form, freeing him to focus on fundamentals as he returns to 2016-2017 levels. Additionally, Vrabel is working Mariota into a new style of offense. So far this offseason, he’s spent time working with his wide receivers “off the clock” in an effort to become a better passer this season. Those stats, while leading the team to the playoffs again, should lead Mariota to the contract extension he desires.