Don’t Expect a ‘Run-Happy’ Marcus Mariota in 2018

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Marcus Mariota
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 13: Marcus Mariota /

With a new coaching staff comes a brand new offensive scheme. Thankfully this scheme doesn’t involve running the franchise quarterback into the ground. 

The annual NFL Scouting Combine is officially underway in Indianapolis. This gives the media and the fans a chance to get to get to hear from HC Mike Vrabel for essentially the first time since he was hired as the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans. One thing he touched on was the usage of Marcus Mariota’s running ability under OC Matt LaFleur’s new offense.

“We got to be smart and he’s got to be smart. It’s how much are we going to use him to run the ball. How much harm is he going to put himself in? There’s a lot of factors that go into it. The risk/reward of when he does run with the football.” This was exactly what I was hoping to hear from Vrabel on this topic.

Far too often former HC Mike Mularkey relied on Mariota’s ability as an athlete rather than as a quarterback. While I believe you can’t disregard that attribute of Mariota altogether, it would be smart for the team’s long-term success if the former Heisman winner honed in on beating defenses primarily with his arm, using the threat to run as a complement to that.

Whether it was a designed run, a roll out, or a scramble off of a drop-back, Mariota had an abundance of unnecessary nicks and bruises throughout the season. If you give the defense multiple opportunities to get a big hit on the face of the franchise in the open field, they’re going to take advantage. The best way to protect your quarterback is to have a solid unit up front protecting him, with a lot of quick, rhythmic throws to get the ball out swiftly. That just so happens to be a staple of LaFleur’s offense based off of his previous stops.

More from Titan Sized

You saw in the Divisional Round loss to the New England Patriots that the option to run can easily be taken away. While Mariota did sustain a quad injury, you could tell that the defense was keying on his ability to take off at any moment. They were begging for him to beat them with solely his arm, and Mariota couldn’t take advantage. Whether it was on him or the previous coaching staff, this is something that needs to be addressed if the team is to take another step forward in 2018.

This problem wasn’t highlighted as much as it should have been during the season because the team was winning. But with the division gaining back its strength and a harder schedule on the horizon, this may not be something the Titans can get away with in the future.

Believe it or not, one of my favorite Mariota games of last season was the Monday Night Football win over the Colts. Not because it snapped a long drought versus a division rival or even because Mariota was able to will the team to victory despite his injury. It was because he was able to tear the defense apart from the pocket despite having his safety valve (running ability) taken away from him. This is what we need to see more from Mariota come 2018, and only using his legs when it’s deemed fit.

There’s little doubt that the former Oregon Duck is a gifted passer. He has shown time and time again he can hit almost any spot on the field. Mariota has the arm talent and athleticism to elevate to a top-tier passer, he just hasn’t had the coaches around him to get that polished product.

The prior staff of Mularkey, Terry Robiskie, and Jason Michael had never had any prior experience working with and developing quarterbacks. Mularkey and Michael have a background with tight ends while Robiskie worked with receivers. That could explain why they used Mariota in the manner they did during their tenures.

For the first time in his young career, Mariota actually has coaches who have impressive resumes with productive quarterbacks. Most notably, Robert Griffin III, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff all had career years under the watch of LaFleur. LaFleur has had a great deal of success with a variety of differently skilled quarterbacks. Not to mention the success QB coach Pat O’Hara had with Deshaun Watson during his rookie season in 2017.

If history tells us anything, it’s that Marcus Mariota is destined to finally take that next step as an all-around quarterback under the new regime.

Next: Tennessee Titans: Free Agent Wish List