NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Quarterback is the single-most important position in sports and, for the Tennessee Titans, it is the chief talking point as the 2019 season approaches.
Tuesday’s OTA practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park was the first time the media has seen Marcus Mariota throw since the week leading up to Tennessee’s 2018 season finale against the Indianapolis Colts. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that a nerve condition would cause Mariota to not make that start the morning of the game after the quarterback had gone through a week of limited practice. Prior to that, both team and player had said publicly that they believed he would be available.
Then, back-up Blaine Gabbert made the start but failed to propel the Titans into the playoffs after the team fell at home to Indianapolis 33-17 on Sunday Night Football.
Playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, Mariota faces more scrutiny than ever before and legitimate competition in Ryan Tannehill, whom GM Jon Robinson traded for this offseason. But the Titans starting quarterback is not worried about the noise and, more importantly, neither is his head coach.
“(Mariota’s) job is not in jeopardy,” coach Mike Vrabel said in sidebar Tuesday. “I don’t think that that’s even something that we’re here to talk about. But the competition of other players that have played in the league at your position? I just try to relate it to my own story.”
Marcus Mariota will be given every opportunity to succeed (or fail) and receive a contract extension to stay in Nashville after this season. This point, internally and externally, is not up for debate.
By all accounts, Mariota did and has done everything in his power to this point to correct the issues that plagued him a year ago. Tannehill has not been made available for public comment yet (because he would have dominated this week’s Titans news cycle even more) but one can assume that the former Dolphin is here to compete for this job or the next one that may come as a result. The Titans will and should prioritize Mariota until his health or his play leaves them no choice.
The fact remains, though, that both the locker room and the organization are entrenched in their position and Mariota entrenched in his. Vrabel and Robinson love their quarterback for both the person and the player that he is. Mariota, for his part, said that he was not worried about the increased scrutiny on him or the noise outside the facility.
“No. I just try to be the best that i can be,” Mariota said when asked if his approach changes at all this year. “Obviously, health-wise, there’s things that, towards the end of the year, I wish had happened differently. That’s just kind of the nature of the beast, the game that we play. I think, as we go through this, we’ll find ways to hopefully stay healthier but I don’t change my approach.”
Unfortunately for Mariota, his approach is not the issue. It is both the availability and performance that suffers as a result of health that requires improvement.