Heading into his fifth professional season, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota provided an update on his health at the opening of the team’s offseason program.
If that sentence feels familiar to you, it is because Mariota reported to St. Thomas Sports Park coming off yet another injury-riddled season that saw him unable to play a full 16-game slate. It is, pardon the Masters’ pun, a tradition unlike any other.
“I’m feeling better,” Mariota told the assembled media Monday. “I don’t know an exact number but I feel pretty close to being fully healthy. As every single day goes on, we have a plan to get more and more healthy. I think this athletic training staff has done a great job and I look forward to just continuing to work with them.”
As Paul Kuharsky reported in March, Mariota suffered an ulnar nerve issue in his throwing arm in the season opener, a stinger on the road against the Colts in November and then another one in Week 16 when Tennessee hosted Washington. The injuries took their toll and saw Mariota scratched last-minute before the team’s playoff-win-and-in situation Week 17 in Nashville against Indianapolis.
Add that to the cracked vertebra, torn plantar fascia, strained oblique, broken rib and sprained AC shoulder joint he dealt with over the duration of the 2018 season which begs the question: will the accumulated injuries affect Mariota fundamentally as a player?
“I’m in the middle of everything with everybody,” Mariota said in response to what his current limitations are. “Not necessarily limitations, but just trying to be smart. If there’s something that’s lingering or, maybe, something doesn’t feel right, just being able to communicate (that) with everybody.”
A lack of limitations still did not inspire confidence that the Heisman Trophy-winner is currently full-go.
The Titans struggled from the jump offensively in no small part due to the early injury to Mariota, a concussion suffered by left tackle Taylor Lewan, a snapped ankle that cost tight end Delanie Walker his entire campaign and wide receiver Rishard Matthews quitting the team not even a full month in. But whether it was back-up Blaine Gabbert on the field or Mariota, the offense dipped from year-to-year under the then-new coaching staff in both total yards per game (312.4) and average scoring (19.4 ppg), while boasting a middling conversion percentage on third-downs (40%).
Better protection and schematic continuity under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will help boost those numbers in Year 2 under head coach Mike Vrabel but Mariota’s durability is crucial for any kind of sustained success. A focus for the fifth-year quarterback was to gain weight this offseason and, while he did not give a specific figure, Mariota said he did add between five to 10 pounds.
“When it comes down to it, just being able to absorb the hits, being able to be healthy for a full game, for a full year,” Mariota responded when asked about the added bulk. “Those things haven’t really happened yet. So, I’m doing my best to be able to be on the front end of it and allow myself the opportunity to play all 16 (games).”
Easier said than done.
Prove that he can last a full year, though, and Mariota will be worth the contract extension general manager Jon Robinson and the Titans seem pretty willing to give him.
Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.