Marcus Mariota is the veteran of the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback room. That doesn't make him the long- or even short-term starter for the impending season.
Mariota isn't acting as if the job is his already at the start of OTAs, and is more than happy to work alongside rookie Desmond Ridder. Of course, the 29-year-old vet hopes to be the starter Week 1. His recent track record bodes well in his favor.
“For me personally the last couple of years was a learning opportunity,” Mariota said after Thursday’s practice. “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.”
The 2014 Heisman winner was brought in due in part to his knowledge of the playbook. Before Ryan Tannehill took over midseason in Tennessee in 2020, Mariota started the first five games under Titans offensive coordinator and now Falcons head coach Arthur Smith.
After electing to trade Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick, Atlanta and Mariota agreed to a two-year, $18.75 million deal. In the third round of April’s draft, the Falcons used a selection on the Cincinnati passer Ridder that coming off a career season.
Mariota served as a backup in Las Vegas yet always has taken a leadership position. Turning into a mentor has become second nature.
"I kind of always view that relationship in the quarterback room as important and special," Mariota said. 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.”
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After 14 seasons with Ryan, Atlanta is looking for its next franchise quarterback. Mariota likely viewed the chance to join the Falcons as similar to how Jameis Winston or Mitch Trubisky viewed the New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. It presents the offer of starting early while battling to be viewed as a centerpiece of the offense.
The loss of Ryan also presents a chance for Ridder to step into that role. He's coming off a season in which he led the Bearcats to their first College Football Playoff appearance. He also ranks third in wins among FBS quarterbacks with a 44-6 record.
Smith said Mariota shouldn't compare himself to either Ryan or Ridder. His goal is to build off past mistakes to reserve future problems in a new city.
"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."
The job in time could belong to Ridder. The present is in Mariota's hands. Along the way, he'll guide Ridder with keys to help the team win.
The teacher traits come at little surprise to those closest.
“It’s just the type guy Marcus is," Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London said. "He’s a great teammate. He’s going to do whatever he can to help the team and guys follow suit.”