Mariota looks comfortable enough in the pocket not to run from it

Marcus Mariota showed in college that he is fleet of foot.

In limited NFL action (preseason action at that) he has made it clear he is willing to stand his ground.

Through the first two weeks of the preseason the second overall pick in the 2015 draft has the worst rushing stats (minus-5 yards on two carries) among rookie quarterbacks that have run at least once.

It should be noted, though, that on the first of those ‘attempts,’ in the opener at Atlanta, he was in the pocket about to pass when he the ball was knocked from his hand. The Falcons defense recovered and the rookie quarterback was credited with a rush for minus-6 yards.

“There are going to be times when you want him to pull it down and run, and that’s going to happen naturally,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think he’s very gifted in that department.

“If I had my druthers, would much rather see him stay in the pocket right now and work on those kind of things, knowing he’s got a tremendous body of work of pulling it down and running with it.”

GET UP AND GO
A look at the rushing statistics of NFL rookie quarterbacks through the first two weeks of preseason games:

Jameill Showers, Dallas – 4-37 0 TD (passing: 13-28-1 120 1 TD)
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay – 5-19 2 TD (passing: 17-32-1 221 0 TD)
Cody Fajardo, Oakland – 5 -17 0 TD (passing: 2-6-1 20 0 TD)
Bryan Bennett, Indianapolis – 5-15 0 TD (passing: 5-23-2 52 0 TD)
Garrett Grayson, New Orleans – 3-15 0 TD (passing: 15-25-0 167 0 TD)
Phillip Sims, Arizona – 2-8 0 TD (passing: 11-25-0 131 1 TD)
Dylan Thompson, San Francisco – 2-2 0 TD (passing: 7-12-1 52 0 TD)
Bryce Petty, N.Y. Jets – 2-1 0 TD (passing: 22-37-0 218 1 TD)
Taylor Heinicke, Minnesota – 6-minus-2 0 TD (passing: 19-30-1 154 0 TD)
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee – 2-minus-5 0 TD (passing: 12-16-1 153 0 TD)
Jake Heaps, N.Y. Jets – 2-minus-3 0 TD (0-1-0 0 0 TD)

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner rushed for more than 700 yards in each of his three seasons as Oregon’s starting quarterback and scored 29 rushing touchdowns, 15 of them last season.

Yet the only time Mariota actually ran with the ball this preseason was Sunday against St. Louis when he scrambled for one yard on a second-and-8 play late in the first quarter.

The play that followed is what currently ranks as the signature moment regarding his comfort level in the pocket. On third-and-7 from the Rams’ 9-yard line, he dropped to throw against a defense that featured just three rushers and eight defending the pass.

He stayed in the pocket much longer than normal, surveyed the field from one side to the other and finally found running back Dexter McCluster open in the end zone. McCluster dropped the pass and the Titans had to settle for three points – but Mariota proved a major point.

“Well I think there were a lot of questions about his ability to do that coming out, so from that standpoint I think he’s done a good job of answering that he can do that,” Whisenhunt said this week. “But you know, I couch that with saying he hasn’t done it in a regular season game yet.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

 

Aug 27, 2015 2:39 PM

Coffman seizes opportunity with Titans, hopes to catch on anywhere

Playing at perhaps the most crowded position on the Titans roster, Chase Coffman has managed to become a preseason standout for Tennessee.

Through two preseason games he is the Titans leading receiver with six receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

He faces competition from veterans Delanie Walker, Anthony Fasano and Craig Stevens and two others, Philip Supernaw, and Tevin Westbrook, at a position where typically three players make the final roster. His two touchdown receptions against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Nissan Stadium (one more than the rest of the team combined this preseason) certainly helped his case.

“It’s a blessing to get the opportunity to play on a big stage,” Coffman said. “Whenever the opportunity comes you have to make those count.

“We have a good tight end group. It is a tough league and you have to make the opportunities count when they come to you and it has been a blessing to get those opportunities.”

Walker, last season’s starter, has been sidelined with a thumb injury, which opened the door for others to get more playing time in the first two games. A third-round pick by Cincinnati in 2009 who has played for three different teams in a five-year NFL career, Coffman played more snaps in the preseason opener at Atlanta (24) and then did more with less against the Rams.

GETTING A LOOK
A breakdown of the number of snaps each of the Tennessee Titans tight ends played through the first to preseason games:

Player at Atl.-vs. Stl. – Total
Phillip Supernaw 23-28 – 51
Tevin Westbrook 23-15 – 38
Chase Coffman 24-11 – 35
Anthony Fasano 17-15 – 32
Craig Stevens 9-16 – 25

“Even though it's the preseason you can still get confidence off of this and just keep going,” Coffman said. “It's a blessing to just be in the position to get those throws and have those right plays in the right coverage at the right time. It’s just a blessing.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said this week that Walker, who has been held out of games because of a cut to his hand that required 12 stitches, will play Friday at Kansas City (7 p.m., WKRN-TV, Ch. 2).

He also said following the victory over the Rams that whether or not Coffman makes the team would hinge on his blocking and his special teams contributions rather than his obvious ability to catch. He caught six passes for 107 yards and a touchdown last preseason and was released at the end of training camp.

“We are deep at that position and that’s a good place to be deep because it’s hard to find those guys,” Whisenhunt said. “(Coffman) has done a nice job in camp and we’ll get a chance to see him do more things. Obviously, he’s got to be able to help us with the blocking and contribute in special teams.”

Whether or not he makes the Titans roster, Coffman knows this preseason is his chance to showcase what he can bring to a team – any team.

“It’s not just an audition for the one team you are with, but the 31 other teams out there,” he said. “I really like this organization and this team, so I’d really like to be here. So we’ll see.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 26, 2015 12:21 PM

Mariota stayed calm, productive when things went silent

It’s easy to see how an inability to hear could be troubling to a rookie quarterback.

Marcus Mariota simply felt like a kid again.

The Tennessee Titans’ coach-to-quarterback communication system failed for a time early in Sunday’s preseason game against the St. Louis Rams at Nissan Stadium. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said it probably cost the offense some yards but did not the team did not burn a timeout or take a delay of game penalty as a result.

“Yeah, after the first two plays, it kind of went out and had to revert to Pop Warner,” Mariota said. “Just running over to the coach, getting the play and running back to the huddle. It worked fine after that. It’s one of those things that happens and you just have to kind of work through it.”

That opening possession, one of three the second overall pick in this year’s draft led, covered 44 yards and included three first downs before the Titans punted. The majority of plays were runs but the drive might have gone even longer had Kendall Wright not allowed a third-down pass to hit him in chest and bounce off.

Mariota finished 5-for-8 for 59 yards. Running back Dexter McCluster dropped a certain touchdown pass when the quarterback found him open in the end zone.

“I didn’t like the drops,” Whisenhunt said. “We had two drops when (Mariota) was in there that one of them obviously would’ve been a touchdown, another one would’ve been a first down.”

Yet the second-year coach couldn’t have been happier with how things went when the communications system temporarily dropped out.

“In those type of situations a lot of time young quarterbacks will panic, but he didn’t,” Whisenhunt said. “We had a couple of miscues, but that led to a couple of situations that put us in long yardage deals on those first drives. He still made some plays and handled himself well.

“It was actually something that you don’t plan, but it was good to see him respond.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 24, 2015 8:29 AM

Titans finally concede Nissan Stadium sellout streak is over

It’s officially over.

The sellout streak that started when the Tennessee Titans moved into Nissan Stadium (formerly: The Coliseum, Adelphia Coliseum and LP Field) in 1999 officially ended with Sunday’s 27-14 preseason victory against the St. Louis Rams.

The Titans announced 61,548 “tickets distributed,” which was roughly 8,000 shy of a sellout. Unquestionably, even fewer than that were on hand to watch rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and his teammates in the first of two home preseason games this year but no actual attendance was announced.

“It was definitely a big showing, for sure,” second-year tackle Taylor Lewan said. “It’s just great to have the fans’ support. It has a lot to do with (Mariota) but it’s good.”

There have been numerous occasions (particularly last season) when the home team played to well short of a full house. In recent years that purported continuation of the streak prompted increasing sarcasm from the fan base and even a couple of investigative reports by a local television station.

The team recently admitted that its claim of 164 straight sellouts did not square with related tax payments it made to the city, an error it since has corrected.

“It was a great atmosphere (Sunday) night in our stadium, seeing all the fans in there,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “It was good to get a win at home. I think that was important for us.”

Tennessee was 1-7 at home in 2014.

This year’s regular season home opener is Sept. 27 against Indianapolis.

Aug 24, 2015 5:25 AM

Highlight reel: Titans 27, Rams 14

There was a lot more good than bad in the Tennessee Titans’ 27-14 preseason victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, which made it a welcome change from a lot of other recent Titans’ contest.

A closer look at some of the players and plays that made a difference:

 
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Bishop Sankey, running back

After an underwhelming performance in the preseason opener at Atlanta (eight carries, 15 yards), last year’s second round draft pick looked like a completely different player. He ran for 18 yards on the Titans’ second play from scrimmage, added a 19-yard run on the second possession and finished the night with 45 yards on six carries.

Sankey (pictured) was the Titans’ leading rusher last season and he only topped 45 yards rushing in seven games, none after Nov. 9.

For someone who has started to feel the heat from Antonio Andrews and rookie David Cobb, this was a noteworthy effort.

Honorable mentions: Byron Bell, LG – he started in place of Andy Levitre and the offensive line simply looked better; Chase Coffman, TE – He caught just two passes, both for touchdowns and a team-high 59 receiving yards; Yawin Smallwood, LB – He’s a longshot to make the roster but he had the game’s only sack in addition to two tackles and a pass defensed.

 
NOTABLE MOMENT
Perrish Cox 24-yard interception return for a touchdown

Tennessee’s offense got the ball first and _ after some initial promise — settled for a punt. On the Rams’ fourth offensive play, the free agent cornerback stepped in front of a pass intended for former Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt and went untouched to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

The defense did not have one preseason interception in 2014 and had not scored a preseason touchdown on an interception return since linebacker Colin McCarthy in 2012.

Throughout offseason workouts, Cox looked like the sort of playmaker the defense desperately needs. Now he’s done it in the preseason. All that remains is to show he can do it in the regular season.

Honorable mention: Zach Mettenberger’s three-yard touchdown pass to Chase Coffman – a confident, accurate throw on a short field into a small window; Marcus Mariota on the opening drive – his communication device went out but the team did not need to burn a timeout or take a delay of game penalty.

 
THEY SAID IT

“We ran the ball fairly effectively. We had a lot of things going on – we had some misdirection that worked pretty good. So I think we kept a pretty good defense off balance. I thought we protected pretty well too. Until you really see the tape and get a chance to evaluate it you don’t know. But I’m certainly encouraged.” – coach Ken Whisenhunt on the play of the shuffled starting offensive line.

"I guess first and foremost I have to extend my appreciation to the entire Titans organization honoring me like they did. It was moving. I heard about it this week but didn’t know it was going to be to that extent so I appreciate their approach and their generosity." -- Rams coach Jeff Fisher, on the first-quarter video tribute to him.

"We get better each and every week. Everyone played great today and we need to continue to build on this. Last year, was a bad taste in our mouth, to go 2-14. It was a long season. That’s just one thing here that nobody wants to experience, ever again." -- Titans safety Michael Griffin, on the optimism coming out of this game.

 
THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s just a preseason game. That is true and it guarantees nothing.

For the first time in nearly a year, though, it seemed reasonable to develop some positive feelings about this team. There was Mariota’s poise in the pocket, the reshuffled offensive line that looked like it actually opened holes, a defense that held Rams starting quarterback Nick Foles to 18 yards on seven pass attempts, the fact that Tennessee scored the first 20 points and so on.

Yes, it’s not certain that any of it will show up in the regular season but there certainly were far too little of those sorts of things last regular season. So this night is the equivalent of a farmer dealing with a drought who looks up and sees rain clouds in the distance.  At least there’s some hope.

 
(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 24, 2015 5:20 AM

Cox gets Titans off to fast start with takeaway, touchdown

Perrish Cox is earning every penny of his $15 million contract thus far this preseason.

Eight minutes into the first quarter Sunday, the Tennessee Titans free agent cornerback intercepted Nick Foles and scored the first touchdown of his team’s 27-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Nissan Stadium.

“That made a big difference in the game, and our whole team responded to it,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “One of the things we talked about (Sunday) in our team meeting was somebody getting a turnover, because that makes such a big difference.”

Cox intercepted the a pass intended for Kenny Britt and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.

“The first thing I look at when I come out, I look at the formation,” Cox said. “I was reading it, and he came off kind of slow, and I knew what route was coming right when he came off the ball.”

In last week’s preseason opener Atlanta’s defense helped the Falcons to a 17-0 lead. A fumble return for a touchdown followed a touchdown by the Falcons’ offense on its opening possession.

This time it was Tennessee’s defense that helped stake its team to an early 20-0 advantage.

“Last weekend was a very frustrating first drive, especially for myself,” Cox said. “It’s just something that you don't like as a whole to come out and for that to happen. But that was the goal for (Sunday) to come out and shut it down and start fast and we did that.” 

Opening the game in that fashion, he hopes, is the first step toward a complete turnaround for a unit that ranked 28th in turnover differential a season ago.

“That was kind of one of our goals as a defense,” Cox said. “As players, we have our own meetings about those kind of things, and that was one of the things that we didn't come out last week and start fast. (Sunday) that was the main goal, just come out and start fast, keep eating and keep the tempo up.”

Aug 24, 2015 5:15 AM

Potential developments that would be signs of progress for Titans

Everyone is looking for something(s) to indicate the Tennessee Titans will be better this year.

Most will focus on the preseason games, the next of which is Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. They’ll study quarterback Marcus Mariota. They’ll look for a running back that gains yards consistently. They’ll look for someone to register sacks and someone to create turnovers on defense.

A lot more happens between now and the start of the regular season, though, than just three exhibition contests. Most notable are the cuts that will reduce the roster from 90 to the regular-season limit of 53 players but the depth chart also must be set and players’ roles will be clearly defined.

All of it bears watching. With that in mind, here are some things to watch for that would indicate things are likely to get better.

Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst is released.

Whitehurst is a good guy and a popular player within the team. He is 33 years old, though, and has started nine games in his NFL career. He is not going to get any better than he is. Plus, the idea that he is helpful in teaching coach Ken Whisenhunt’s offense (a central theme to his signing a year ago) is obsolete given that Whisenhunt allegedly has tailored his offense to Mariota.

The decision to release Whitehurst would create a cap savings of $2 million. More importantly it be a sign that Mariota is poised and comfortable enough to do without an experienced hand to help him through and that Zach Mettenberger is good enough to be a reliable backup, which would give the team a young, promising 1-2 punch at the position going forward.

Perrish Cox becomes the number-one cornerback.

Jason McCourty has been the Titans’ top cornerback for several seasons, a distinction based on two factors: experience (he’s a six-year veteran who has started every game but one the last four seasons) and money (his $6.8 million salary is the team’s highest this season). Yet his performance does not measure up. He has just nine interceptions in his four years as a starter.

Simply put: McCourty is a solid NFL player who certainly has a role on the defense. But any unit is better if he is the second-best cornerback, and Cox, a free agent from San Francisco, is the one guy who has shown enough playmaking ability to rate as a No. 1 guy.

Dexter McCluster’s primary role is a return specialist.

The Titans signed McCluster (pictured) as a free agent last year with the idea that he could help in a variety of ways because they could create mismatches with him. He ended up most often as a running back and carried the ball 40 times, a surprising number of which were traditional running plays right into the line of scrimmage where – at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds – he was at a serious disadvantage.

If he is a return specialist whose role on offense is limited, it means either second-year man Bishop Sankey or rookie David Cobb or someone else has shown he can be a reliable running back, something this team desperately needs.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 21, 2015 1:59 PM

Titans look like a team looking at changes on offensive line

The last of this year’s Tennessee Titans training camp practices that were open to the public gave everyone something to watch for the rest of the preseason.

Coaches shuffled the starting offensive line throughout the workout Sunday afternoon at the team’s training facility. Halfway through each of the first-team reps, right tackle Byron Bell moved to left guard and replaced Andy Levitre. Jamon Meredith took Bell’s spot at right tackle.

Afterward, coach Ken Whisenhunt attempted to downplay the moves but it looks certain that – between now and the start of the regular season – the team at least will consider doing something different on the offensive line than what was expected.

“That’s not really a decision that you can force,” Whisenhunt said. “I think we got some information after last game, we’ll get some more in this game [Sunday against St. Louis], and then we’ll assess it after that. We’re still in training camp mode and we’ve still got a lot of practice that we can do this week. So we’ll find out.”

Levitre (pictured) is the third-highest paid left guard in the league courtesy of a six-year, $46.8 million free agent deal he signed in 2013. His cap number for the next three seasons is $8.6 million, tied for the highest on the team this season.

The 29-year-old never has missed a game or a start in six NFL seasons (he played in Buffalo for the first four) but his performance with the Titans has been uneven at best. He allowed six sacks last year and ranked 58th among 81 who played left guard.

Bell, 26, signed a one-year free agent deal with the Titans this offseason after having spent the first four years of his career with Carolina. He played 62 games (56 starts) for the Panthers, including one at right guard in 2012. He made 40 starts at right tackle with 15 at left tackle.

“I’m just doing what the coaches ask me to do, wherever they put me, just make sure I know what’s going on and I’ll be fine,” Bell said. “… I don’t know what’s going on or whatever have you. They put me at guard, I’m going to play guard. If I’m at tackle, I’m at tackle.

“… They’re just trying to get different looks. Just in case somebody gets hurt we can move guys around and guys can play multiple positions.”

Meredith is listed as the backup at left guard and, according to Pro Football Focus, was one of the Titans’ best players in Friday’s preseason opener against Atlanta.

He’s a 29-year-old who has played 54 games (27 starts) with Buffalo, the N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and the Titans. He has started at least three games at every position except center.

“Bell’s had a lot of snaps at left guard in camp and (Meredith) has had them everywhere on the line of scrimmage,” Whisenhunt said. “They’ve all rotated in that position. They’ve had snaps with the (starters) all of camp.”

Only one can get those snaps when the regular season starts, though. And right now it’s clear that the coaches don’t know who that will be.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 17, 2015 5:25 AM

Mariota off to good start relative to other rookie QBs (thus far)

Marcus Mariota did not play his best.

Thus far, though, no rookie quarterback is off to a better start than the man the Tennessee Titans already have declared their starter. His first two drives ended with turnovers but he finished seven-for-eight passing for 94 yards in the Titans’ 31-24 loss at Atlanta on Friday.

Among the nine first-year signal-callers that already have gotten their first taste of professional football, Mariota is first in passing yards and completion percentage (87.5) despite the fact that he faced the Falcons’ starting defense out of the gate. Five of his seven completions went for first downs, also best in that group, and his 11.8 yards per attempt rank second.

Seven teams still have to play their preseason openers this weekend. That includes Tampa Bay, which drafted quarterback Jameis Winston first overall.

“There were some ups and downs, but I think as an offense, it was good that we went through some adversity and fought back,’’ Mariota said, according to the Titans’ website.  “I’m proud of what we have, but I think we can always get better.  I’m looking forward to next week.”

The adversity came early.

Mariota completed his first two throws then threw an interception on a screen pass intended for running back Bishop Sankey. The next drive ended after three plays when he was hit in the pocket and fumbled. The Falcons recovered and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown.

He also was sacked on the play the preceded his first interception.

“I could tell he was (ticked) because of the situation, not really anything that was out of control,’’ coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ”But you like that, the competitor in him. … I am not concerned about Marcus. You can tell he doesn’t get flustered.”

Mariota’s third – and final – drive started with a pair of running plays. It continued with a 17-yard completion on third-and-12 and ended with Dexter McCluster’s six-yard touchdown run. A 26-yard gain on a swing pass to running back Antonio Andrews set up the score. On that possession he was 5-for-5 for 78 yards and three first downs.

“It was an incredible experience to say the least,’’ Mariota said. “To be able to step on the field with the Titans organization, that’s special, and I enjoyed every moment of it. There’s some things we can learn from and get better from, but at the same time I was able to enjoy the moment and I’m looking forward to next week.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 15, 2015 7:24 AM

Mariota Moment: Get in, get out

Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota unquestionably is the number-one attraction at the Tennessee Titans training camp. With that in mind, the Nashville Post will offer a daily ‘Mariota Moment,’ a brief look at some aspect of the No. 2 overall pick’s preparation for the 2015 season.

Today: Preseason playing time

Marcus Mariota is a rookie quarterback. It’s an undeniable fact.

That doesn’t mean coach Ken Whisenhunt has to treat him like one.

Whisenhunt said prior to the start of camp and reiterated this week that he does not plan to play the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner longer in the preseason than he would a veteran starting quarterback. In his mind, the idea that Mariota needs all the work he can get prior to the Sept. 13 opener at Tampa Bay is trumped by the philosophy that it won’t do Mariota any good to play with guys with whom he hasn't practiced (or who won't be on the team after the preseason).

“The problem that you run into there is the group that he’s going to play with, that we anticipate him playing with, you walk a fine line of overplaying some of those guys,” Whisenhunt said. “I want to make sure that when he’s in there, he’s got guys that he’s been playing with, been getting reps with. So some of it may be determined by that.”

At this time a year ago, Jake Locker was the starting quarterback and he threw just 30 passes (he completed 21) in the preseason, fewer than half the number thrown by then-rookie Zach Mettenberger (68).

Locker played just 12 snaps in the preseason opener, 24 snaps in the second game and 31 in the third game. He sat out the final contest.

Assuming Whisenhunt’s general approach has not changed much, it seems safe to assume that Mariota will get somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 preseason snaps in preparation for his professional debut.

“We are all excited about it,” Whisenhunt said this week. “He’s had a good camp. He had a good spring. We obviously picked him very high in the draft, thought very highly of him, so this is what it is all about – playing in games. We’re excited to see that.”
 

Aug 14, 2015 12:05 PM