Titans ready for Mariota to use legs more

Published 6:00 am Monday, August 1, 2016

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marcus Mariota took off to his left on a designed run with blockers in front.

Once the Titans quarterback broke out into the open away from defenders, he made a little stutter, hesitation step on his way to what would have been a touchdown.

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The little Deion Sanders-type move by the quiet Mariota caught his coach by surprise.

“I’m shocked he did that. I am,” coach Mike Mularkey said Sunday. “But you know, he’s having fun out here. I think he’s had two very good days.

“Obviously, that was a well-designed, well-executed play. He had some space to run. You see he didn’t run the next play. He came out. He was supposed to be in there. So I’m glad he’s having a little fun. I’m glad to see that he’s feeling as good as he is. Hopefully we can keep him that way.”

Mularkey has talked most of the offseason about getting Mariota running much more in his second NFL season.

The Titans plan to run the ball much more in 2016 after trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry out of Alabama.

Mariota, the No. 2 pick of the 2015 draft and a Heisman winner, ran for 2,237 yards in his career at Oregon and will be a big part of that after running only 34 times as a rookie.

After all, the quarterback who ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine turned in the NFL’s longest play from scrimmage last December. Mariota took off on an 87-yard run where he split through the Jaguars’ defense for a touchdown.

‘Whole other dimension’

Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said that TD run was ridiculous and can demoralize a defense.

“I hate chasing running quarterbacks,” Orakpo said. “I’m speaking from experience. I used to hate chasing Michael Vick when he was in his prime, and Marcus has that same capability with his speed. It brings a whole other dimension. I fear for other guys. You get a guy who’s a dual-threat guy, it’s really an advantage for us.”

Mariota averaged 7.4 yards per carry despite only an average of 2.5 carries per game as a rookie.

The Titans ranked 25th in the NFL last season, averaging 92.8 yards per game. Even with Murray and Henry added to the backfield, Mularkey and the Titans see Mariota’s legs as a way to keep defenses guessing and expand the offense.

“That’s going to open our offense up for this year because last year you didn’t see him run a lot,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “Hopefully this year you’ll see some of that.”

Adding on

Mariota reported for training camp weighing 222 pounds, up about 7 pounds from his rookie season. He hopes the extra muscle will make him more durable after he missed four games with knee injuries. Mariota certainly looked fast as he ran away from defenders, and the quarterback is willing to do whatever Mularkey asks of him.

“If he wants me to run some more, I can,” Mariota said. “It just depends on what the game plan is and how we can attack the defense we’re playing.”

That will be the key for how the Titans use Mariota.

The quarterback took off on two designed runs during a team period Sunday, and Mularkey said they will plan accordingly against the defenses they play while trying to avoid leaving a defender unblocked.