Marcus Mariota’s NFL career got off to a quick start and then stalled out in Tennessee, with injuries and constant coaching changes stunting his growth. That led to Ryan Tannehill supplanting him as the Titans starter last season.
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have loved Mariota since he won the Heisman Trophy at Oregon. Their praise is well-documented, as both were TV analysts when Mariota was entering the draft. The Raiders signed Mariota this offseason to back up — and eventually compete with — quarterback Derek Carr. Mayock said the plan was to “rebuild” Mariota from the ground up after the 26-year-old had offseason surgery to repair some nagging injuries.
Mariota, Carr and the quarterbacks entered the Raiders practice facility a few days ago, and Gruden has liked what he’s seen from his new signal-caller early on.
“I’ve been impressed,” Gruden said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. “Number one thing with Marcus was to get healthy. He had a shoulder problem, he had an ankle problem. It’s a real credit to him that he was able to get his injury rehab done during all of this social distancing and the distraction of finding the doctor and being safe. He did a great job getting himself healthy and learning our system. That will give the best chance to be Marcus Mariota.”
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With no OTAs due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mariota has been hitting the Raiders’ extensive playbook hard during the offseason in order to be well-versed in Gruden’s complex system. So far, it doesn’t appear that the odd offseason has hurt his development in the system.
“It’s been impressive,” Gruden said about Mariota’s understanding of the playbook. “I think being and being in the same chat room with Derek Carr every day has really helped him. Derek is very advanced and very quick mentally. Marcus is as well, he’s learned it really fast and he’s applied it here in the past couple days.”
When healthy, Mariota has been a good NFL starter. After a solid rookie season, Mariota was great in Year 2, throwing for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in 2016 before suffering a broken leg. In his third season, Mariota took the Titans to the playoffs and led them to a come-from-behind win against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, where he caught his own pass and ran it in for a touchdown and threw the game-winning block for Derrick Henry.
The Titans never bought into Mariota, and refused to build an offensive system around his dynamic athleticism and playmaking ability, instead going to a ground-and-pound attack that only asked Mariota to make tight-window throws on third down to receivers who lacked the ability to separate consistently.
Mariota can beat teams with his legs, extend plays and be highly effective in an offense with an innovative play-caller such as Gruden. He’s also a proven leader that his teammates tend to rally around (see comeback win at Arrowhead).
When healthy and confident, he’s the perfect quarterback for the modern NFL.
Mariota also has made an impression on rookie Henry Ruggs.
“He’s a great guy, great team guy, great leader and it seems like things are coming along pretty well,” Ruggs said Thursday. “With us rookies, we are still learning so he’s very helpful in that as far as leading us and helping us.”
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Gruden and Mayock believe in Mariota. Mayock had him as the No. 1 quarterback on his draft board in 2015. They aren’t paying him to just hold a clipboard. He will come in and push Carr like never before.
This is Carr’s team entering the 2020 season. But with the requisite weapons finally around him, it’s now time for Carr to prove he’s a franchise quarterback and take the Raiders to the next level.
If he stumbles at any point and the offense stagnates, Gruden won’t be afraid to turn to Mariota. That’s why he’s there.
How Marcus Mariota has impressed Jon Gruden early in Raiders tenure originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area