NASHVILLE, Tenn. —ESPN's Jon Gruden is high on quarterback Marcus Mariota, and the Tennessee Titans.
In fact, Gruden said on a conference call on Tuesday morning he's expecting big improvements in Tennessee, because of Mariota and an improved running game.
"I really liked him coming out," Gruden said of Mariota. "He is a special young man, and his work ethic, his compassion for his teammates and all that stuff. The intangibles are off the charts and the experience he got last year, understanding protections, understanding NFL defenses, personnel matchups. What is the best play against that coverage? What are the plays I have to get out of? And how do I eliminate the hits? He is the one player who can't play with a sore right shoulder. I think he learned a lot of those things the hard way.
"And if you know Marcus, you know that 2-14 doesn't really sit well with him. This is a kid that's really never lost. I'd be shocked if they don't make dramatic improvements in Tennessee."
Mariota set franchise records for most touchdowns (19), completions (230), passing yards (2,818) and passing attempts (370) in his first NFL season despite missing four games with knee injuries.
In three games during the preseason this year, Mariota is 23-of-31 for 319 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. His completion percentage is 74.2, and his passer rating is 104.1.
Gruden, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Buccaneers, said he's watched the Titans closely this offseason.
He's been impressed with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
"This is one team I've spent a lot of time on in the preseason studying, because it is fun to watch a team go back to the way it was,'' Gruden said. "There's a song I like to listen to called 'The Way We Were' and that's what I feel like I sing when I watch the Titans play. I am seeing old-school, gap-scheme. Russ Grimm, the offensive line coach, they look like the old Washington Redskins under Joe Gibbs. You see shifts, you see all kind of different power, counter gap schemes and you see big backs that get downhill.
"I like Murray. I've always liked Murray a lot. I think he can run it and catch it, and he is outstanding picking up blitzes and he gets better as the game unfolds. He can finish you. And Henry is uncommonly huge. He is one of the biggest backs I have ever seen. He doesn't look like a tailback, he looks like a power forward to me.
"They have a one-two combination that can really punish you. I am interested in Tennessee. I think it stimulated the football team. I think their defense is playing better because they practice against this every day, and the wild card will be Mariota – he can really play. And his running and passing with this running game could get interesting."