Titans teammates back Marcus Mariota as leader, 'excited for 2019'

By Alex Butler
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The Titans have made several additions to their offense, in hopes of helping the former No. 2 overall NFL Draft selection improve. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The Titans have made several additions to their offense, in hopes of helping the former No. 2 overall NFL Draft selection improve. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

April 30 (UPI) -- Marcus Mariota's Tennessee Titans teammates told UPI that they support their quarterback as a leader and are excited to see how he performs in 2019.

The quarterback is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is set to make $20.9 million this season. Plenty of questions need answering when it comes to finding out if the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft is a franchise quarterback.


But those questions aren't coming from his teammates.

Titans running back Derrick Henry is also entering the final year of his rookie contract. Henry said Mariota has been the leader of the team since he was drafted in 2016.

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"I'm definitely confident in him," Henry said. "That's my teammate That's my quarterback. I'm excited for him this year."


Mariota, 25, has led the Titans to the postseason just once in his four-year tenure as a starter. He completed a career-high 68.9 percent of his throws last season, but tossed just 11 touchdowns in 14 games. Pro Football Focus slotted Mariota as its No. 18 quarterback in 2018.

The Titans quarterback watched his season end early due to a neck injury. Mariota has had to deal with numerous injuries during his young career, but enters 2019 hoping to play the full 16 game slate. The Oregon product even added some extra weight this off-season, hoping to help himself stay more durable.

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For years, Tennessee has worked to surround Mariota with talent at the skill positions. The Titans picked up wide receiver Corey Davis from Western Michigan with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Tennessee used a second round pick on Mississippi wide receiver A.J. Brown in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers breakout wide receiver Adam Humphries signed a four-year, $36 million pact with the Titans this off-season in free agency. In addition to threats at wide receiver, the Titans also have three-time Pro Bowl selection Delanie Walker at tight end.


Florida International product Jonnu Smith is also a red-zone threat at tight end. The Titans added the 6-foot-3, 248-pound pass-catcher in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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All of the pieces appear to be there for Mariota and the Titans. In addition to Henry, the backfield also boasts Dion Lewis, one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. The Titans also have what is widely-regarded as one of the best offensive lines in football.

But it's up to Mariota to make it all go. And now the pressure is on. The Titans traded for longtime Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill this off-season. While the team maintains that Mariota is the starter, it will be up to him to keep it that way. Mariota must stay healthy and perform well to keep his stranglehold on the QB1 spot on the team's depth chart.

He said he started working with the Titans pass-catchers before the team reported to its off-season training program on April 15.

"The guys looked good," Mariota said. "I'm excited. They seemed to be healthy and moving around well. I think through these first couple weeks of team activities, guys seemed to be flying around and picking up the offense. So it was just kind of building all those days off of one another and trusting the process. We are looking forward to OTAs."


A common off-season mantra for the Titans has been a focus on "becoming great." Mariota has an average record as a starter (27-28), but hasn't been able to consistently land his team in the postseason. Tennessee missed out once again in 2018, despite posting a 9-7 record for the third consecutive season.

And reaching the playoffs isn't an easy task in the AFC South, which is now loaded with talent. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Houston Texans gunslinger Deshaun Watson could battle it out as NFL MVP candidates in 2019. The Jacksonville Jaguars went out and signed Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles this off-season, hoping to stabilize their quarterback position.

Walker -- who missed 15 games in 2018 with an ankle injury -- hopes to slide back into the fold and provide some momentum.

"We have to win as a unit," said Walker, who spoke to fans in Nashville at the Tostitos Cantina. "I'm just another piece to the puzzle. When we all play great, that's when we are going to get to that level. I just come in and add that different style of play and get my team pumped up by making plays and getting them excited."


Jurrell Casey might be on the other side of the ball, but the four-time Pro Bowl selection says Mariota is who keeps everyone together. But he also said it's up to Mariota's teammates to back him up.

"The biggest thing is us rallying behind him and making sure he is becoming successful," Casey said. "That's the biggest thing we can do as a team ... to make sure all of us are clicking on one cylinder and that will make the game a lot easier for him. As long as we do that, his performance will continue to show. I think he has been doing that year in and year out. It's just about us performing and us winning games."

The Titans haven't won the AFC South since the 2008 season. Veteran Kerry Collins made the Pro Bowl that season. Before that, the Titans had NFL MVP Steve McNair under center. McNair led the Titans to a division crown in 2002 and had a stretch of leading the team to the postseason in four out of five years.

Walker said Mariota isn't so much of a vocal leader, but he "just gets the job done" without complaint.


"He always takes the blame when we lose, even when it's not his fault. That's the type of leader you want to have in a quarterback."

Mariota doesn't appear to see Tannehill as competition, but he does have another adversary: himself.

"For me, I really just try to compete with myself," Mariota said. "I try to be the best version of myself day in and day out. It's awesome to have Ryan in the building. It's awesome to have him in our room. I think he brings not only experience, but also another perspective. So we are blessed to have him."

"I try to do my best to be my best and nothing more than that."

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