As a second-string quarterback, Marcus Mariota was first-rate.
Numerous Tennessee Titans players and coaches have talked about how well the former starter handled his demotion last October.
Now, a member of last season’s defense says Mariota could not have played any better – in practice, at least – during the time that Ryan Tannehill was in charge of the offense. With no other quarterbacks on the roster, Mariota was the one who ran the scout team offense during workouts.
“He started killing us every single week,” cornerback Logan Ryan said during his recent appearance on the Double Coverage podcast with Jason and Devin McCourty. “Like, he started ripping us in practice. Marus Mariota was the practice quarterback and he was destroying us. And it made us better.”
In 13 games (10 in the regular season, three in the playoffs) as the backup, Mariota was on the field for just five plays with the offense.
However, he spent a week imitating Tom Brady prior to Tennessee’s victory over New England in the wild card round. Brady’s passer rating in that game was 59.4, the fifth-worst among his 41 career playoff games. It was also the sixth postseason contest in which Brady failed to through a touchdown pass.
The next week Mariota impersonated Lamar Jackson as preparation for the Titans’ divisional round upset of Baltimore. Jackson, the NFL’s 2019 most valuable player, managed a 63.2 passer rating, his second-lowest of the season. He also threw two interceptions, one-third of his regular season total.
Only two of Tennessee’s final nine opponents in the regular season managed 300 or more net yards passing.
“I think Marcus accepted it so well and was like, ‘All right, I’ll do what’s best for the team,’” Ryan said. “… It made us better.”
Praise for Mariota's attitude in the wake of the quarterback swap was consistent throughout the latter part of the season. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith called him "strong-minded" while quarterbacks coach Pat O'Hara termed him an "ultimate pro." Tannehill too repeatedly talked about how easy Mariota made things for him.
Apparently, he made things difficult on the defense. That was good too.