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VOL. 8 | NO. 18 | Saturday, April 25, 2015

McCormick

Terry McCormick

Several Reasons for Titans Not to Take Mariota in NFL Draft

TERRY McCORMICK | The Ledger

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As the NFL Draft edges ever closer, the Tennessee Titans appear to hold the key.

The Titans hold the No. 2 pick in the draft, which begins April 30, and could go any number of directions with the choice.

Assuming the Tampa Bay Bucs are zoned in on Jameis Winston at No. 1, the Titans will go one of three ways with that second pick:

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, throws for NFL scouts during Pro Day at the University of Oregon.

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

• They could draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and immediately make him the face of the franchise.

• They could decide that 2014 rookie Zach Mettenberger is capable enough at quarterback and choose a potential difference-maker at another position. That likely would be Southern Cal defensive lineman Leonard Williams, believed by many to be the most talented player available in this draft.

• They could trade the pick for multiple picks or a package that might include draft picks and an established player.

A rumored trade involving San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers – who grew up about 100 miles away in Decatur, Alabama – persists in the media, and though such a trade would appear to be a long shot, the fact that the Chargers worked out Mariota last week has given the Rivers-to-Tennessee speculation continued life.

Any of the above options would involve risk.

But the most intriguing option might be selecting Mariota.

On the positive side, Mariota would be immediate publicity boost for a franchise that hasn’t gotten much attention for at least five years.

The last time the Titans were relevant – outside the Nashville market – was 2009 when Chris Johnson rushed for 2,000 yards to salvage an otherwise forgettable season.

Since that time, the Titans are on their third head coach, second general manager and have fallen completely off the NFL radar in terms of attention.

In other words, they have become the Jaguars.

Drafting a guy like Mariota would certainly inject some life into the franchise, much like the selection of Vince Young did in 2006. That was only temporary, of course, since VY eventually washed out, but his presence did keep the Titans viable for a couple of seasons.

So if choosing Mariota, who appears to be smart, clean-cut and talented, would make the Titans franchise relevant again, what is the downside to the Oregon quarterback?

Glad you asked.

Mariota comes from a spread offense at Oregon, which is about as different from a pro-style offense as you can get and still call it football.

Playing in the read-option means a quarterback is not asked to do many of the simplest things about the game, such as calling plays in the huddle, taking the snap under center or taking a seven-step drop while reading the defense.

Most read-option quarterbacks moving to the NFL have either struggled to adapt or have had to have the offense adjusted to fit their skill-sets. And other than perhaps Russell Wilson in Seattle, no spread QB has really been transformed into a true pocket passer, something Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt covets at the position.

Still, Whisenhunt professed this week to be impressed with Mariota’s skill set.

“I don’t think it’s that hard to project. He’s an impressive player,” the Titans coach said. “I think that one of the things that you underestimate in the spread offense is quarterbacks reading the run blocking schemes as well as the pass blocking schemes, because when you’re read-optioning, you’ve got to know who’s blocking who so you can read the option off of that guy.”

OK, in time, Mariota might make the transition from spread offense scrambler to polished pocket passer.

But most draft experts and analysts believe that process could take two or three years to complete.

The question then becomes do Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster have enough shelf life left with the Titans to see such a process through?

Certainly, allowing a rookie quarterback to learn an NFL offense on the fly wouldn’t be an ideal recipe for job security for a coach and general manager coming off a 2-14 season and struggling to reverse fan apathy.

And then there is the family coup that ousted Tommy Smith as CEO. How much leash will new leadership allow Webster and Whisenhunt?

Both men had Smith’s support, but that was before the rug was yanked from under Smith.

There is every chance that, in time, Mariota could become a quality NFL quarterback.

But how long would that take, and can Whisenhunt and Webster afford to wait?

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for 247 Sports NFL Insider.

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