NASHVILLE – A new year, with a new offensive coordinator once again, along with plenty of new teammates.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is ready to put months of preparation to the test on Thursday night when the Titans kick off their preseason schedule against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Just continue to build off what we’ve done so far — get in a rhythm from the get-go and try to score some points,” Mariota said. “It’s always a challenge to face your defense day in and day out, but it’s a nice change of pace when you get the opportunity to play somebody else.”
At this point, however, it’s unclear just how much Mariota and the first-team offense will play in the preseason opener, or in the four preseason games combined leading up to the regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns on September 8.
Titans Coach Mike Vrabel has given no indication about playing time.
So let’s look at the 2018 preseason – Vrabel’s first as the team’s head coach – for clues.
In last year’s preseason opener at Green Bay, Mariota played one series, and he performed well, completing 2-of-3 passes for 42 yards, including a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Darius Jennings to cap off a nine-play, 71-yard drive. He then swapped his helmet in for a baseball cap.
The following week, things were positive again. Mariota played two series, and he completed 4-of-7 passes for 80 yards and a score – a 47-yard touchdown pass to receiver Taywan Taylor, which completed a six-play, 75-yard drive.
Things didn’t go so well in preseason game No.3 at Pittsburgh, however, when Mariota completed 5-of-8 passes for just 43 yards, with an interception, in four series.
Mariota didn’t play in the preseason finale against the Vikings last year. His final preseason numbers for 2018: 11-of-18 for 165 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, a 61.1 completion percentage and a 105.1 rating. He was sacked four times.
This time around, of course, Mariota will be dealing with a new offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith, who replaced Matt LaFleur, now head coach of the Packers.
So the preseason will be a tune-up period for Smith as well.
“I think just getting in the flow of the game and getting the quarterbacks and everybody involved,” Vrabel said of his expectations for Smith. “Building a rhythm within the offense, and plays that compliment each other, and being quick and decisive with the call. Making sure that when you make the call, you’re pretty much now on to the next call. Is it going to be first-and-10, is it going to be a play down to the red zone. You’re anticipating what the outcome is going to be and then you’re quickly reacting to that. Is it going to be a negative play – not that we want a negative play, but you get ready for maybe a second-and-12 play as opposed to a second-and-two play.”
Mariota is hoping the offense can build some momentum heading into the regular season.
The opener in Cleveland is one month from Thursday.
“(The (preseason) allows you to build rhythm for sure,” Mariota said. “It’s an opportunity to get in these real game situations and these real game scenarios. No matter what, I think we always approach every preseason game with the mentality to go out there and score points and nothing is going to change moving forward.”