FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP)—Marcus Mariota is saying all the right things about mentoring Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder.
Mariota would prefer to perform that mentoring role as the Falcons starter.
After starting a combined six games the past three seasons with Tennessee and Las Vegas, Mariota is determined to seize his opportunity to revive his career with the Falcons.
“For me personally the last couple of years was a learning opportunity,” Mariota said after Thursday’s offseason workout. “Previously when I was at Tennessee I had an opportunity to play. I was a starter. Being around that and then going and learning for a couple of years, I’m kind of hungry to get back on the field again.”
Mariota has been reunited with Falcons second-year coach Arthur Smith, the Titans’ former offensive coordinator. Mariota says his adjustment period in Atlanta has been “awesome”—including getting to know Ridder and the Falcons’ only returning quarterback, Feleipe Franks.
Mariota said he’s not reluctant to assume a mentoring role.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I kind of always view that relationship in the quarterback room as important and special. I always felt that a good quarterback room can allow everybody to be better and allow everybody to grow. … At the end of the day if they’ve got questions or I’ve got questions, they’re a great set of eyes for me as well.”
Mariota came to the Titans with high expectations as the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Mariota eventually lost the starting job at Tennessee to Ryan Tannehill before playing behind Derek Carr with the Raiders.
The Falcons signed Mariota to an $18.75 million, two-year deal on March 21 on the same day they traded 14-year starter Matt Ryan to Indianapolis. Atlanta then selected Ridder from Cincinnati in the third round of the draft.
The Ryan trade creates both opportunity and pressure for his successor. Mariota is the favorite to open the season as the starter.
Falcons wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who played with Mariota in Las Vegas before being acquired in a trade on May 13, says he remembers Mariota’s poise when he replaced an injured Carr in Las Vegas.
“Everybody was kind of panicking because Derek Carr is a tree; he’s rooted in there,” Edwards said. “Marcus was like ‘Hey man, I’ve been here before.’ You know, cool, calm and collected. ... I feel like if anybody can do that job, it’s him.”
Ryan threw for more than 3,700 yards in 12 consecutive seasons, including 10 straight with more than 4,000 yards. Mariota’s career high was 3,426 yards in 2016, his second season.
Smith says Mariota, 28, doesn’t need to measure himself against the standards set by Ryan — even if that’s exactly the comparisons the next Falcons quarterback will face.
“I’m not asking him to come in here and be Matt Ryan or be Peyton Manning,” Smith said Thursday. “Be Marcus Mariota. That’s what we want.”
Smith said he hopes Mariota makes good use of the time spent watching from the sideline the past three seasons.
“Everybody, you get another shot at something and there are lessons learned and there are hard lessons,” Smith said. “You take something the right way and you’re more appreciative of the opportunity. ... It’s been fun being around him again, not just as a player but as a person.”
Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London said Mariota already has shown he’ll be a mentor for Ridder.
“He has done it,” London said. “It’s just the type guy Marcus is. He’s a great teammate. He’s going to do whatever he can to help the team and guys follow suit.”