NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans have beefed up their offensive line and improved the running game in an effort to give quarterback Marcus Mariota more help.
While the supporting cast appears to be much better heading into Sunday's season opener hosting the Minnesota Vikings, just how well the Titans do this season is connected to how much Mariota improves from his solid rookie season.
And the Titans think Mariota could be much better this year.
''I would hope to think he's light years ahead of where he was at this time'' last year, Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. ''I mean with all the game experience he had last year, all the things that he's had to go through since he's been here, I would think he'd be, and again, we've done some things to hopefully even ease him into some things that should help him advance pretty good. So I think he should be way ahead of this time last year.''
That certainly excites both the Titans and their fans.
In his NFL debut after winning the Heisman Trophy at Oregon, Mariota threw for four touchdowns and posted a perfect passer rating in leading Tennessee to a 42-14 win at Tampa Bay. That was a rare highlight for Tennessee in a 3-13 season, but Mariota said the auspicious start did provide some confidence.
''To be able to have success and win that game just kind of solidified for me that I can play at this level and have some success,'' Mariota said. ''It was really a confidence booster and something I used for the whole year.''
As a rookie, Mariota started 12 games, completing 230 of 370 passes for 2,818 yards . He had 19 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. The Titans also have simplified some of the playbook to make it easier for the No. 2 overall pick last year at the line of scrimmage.
The Titans bolstered the offensive line by signing center Ben Jones in free agency and drafted right tackle Jack Conklin from Michigan State with the eighth overall pick in April. They traded for DeMarco Murray and drafted Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to give Mariota, the only Tennessee player to run for 100 yards in a game over the past two seasons, more help in the run game.
''I think I'm just a lot more comfortable,'' Mariota said. ''You go through an entire year, you experience a lot of different things, you go through a lot of different scenarios Eventually, you get used to it. I'm a lot more comfortable.''
Now Mariota is being counted upon for more on and off the field. His teammates voted him as one of six captains this week.
''He earned it. He worked his tail off this summer,'' linebacker and a fellow captain Brian Orakpo said. ''He really set an example for other people. And other people are now looking at Marcus as a veteran and a guy they can look up to. That's very important for a quarterback to really be that guy.''
Notes: Wide receiver Kendall Wright, whom Mike Mularkey ruled out earlier in the week, was officially designated as out for Sunday's opener due to his lingering hamstring injury. Wright is the only player listed on the Titans injury report.
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