NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- No one can dispute the fact that Marcus Mariota had an exceptional college career. Winner of countless awards (including the Heisman Trophy), he passed for more touchdowns and more yards than any other quarterback in Oregon history. The question, though, is whether he can carry that success into the pros.
"There's going to be pressure to put this kid out there," Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden said during a national conference call this week.
Gruden was referring to the hype surrounding both Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. "There's just not a lot of patience anymore."
Mariota's strengths lie in speed and accuracy, both of which made him tremendously effective in the Ducks' spread offense. His presence in the pocket, though, is a concern for some analysts.
"I think it all starts with the snap count," Gruden said. "After meeting with these quarterbacks, you realize that a lot of these quarterbacks don't even have snap count. They're using silent counts in the shotgun. They're using set-go every single play. They haven't been asked to recognize a problem in the defense and audible."
This phenomenon, though, isn't unique to Mariota. None of the 2015 Draft's top quarterbacks, including Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Baylor's Bryce Petty and Colorado State's Garrett Grayson, have experience reading defenses, Gruden said.
"None of them were in the huddle this year," he said. "So that whole process of the snap count, calling plays, recognizing coverages and defenses and getting your offense in an optimum play will be a process."
But Gruden believes Mariota is up for the challenge and that, should the Titans take him with the No. 2 overall pick, he'd be just fine in Nashville.
"I think Ken Whisenhunt will be able to adapt to any quarterback," he said. "He had to adapt, unfortunately, to several quarterbacks in his first year."
Plagued by injuries, four different quarterbacks suited up for the Titans in 2014 – Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger and Jordan Palmer.
"We all have, I think, a perfect world of what offense we'd want to run," he said. "But if you do choose Marcus Mariota, he's going to bring a unique skill set to you. Running quarterback-driven, running-type option plays can be part of it."
Given his speed and mobility, Mariota has been compared to other running quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. And while the team may need to tweak its offense to work for a quarterback like Mariota, Gruden sees his skill set as a definite advantage.
"I'm impressed with his mental quickness, his arm quickness and his physical body quickness," he said. "His scramble ability is another thing. His second reaction plays are really unscripted. It's exciting."
But Gruden says it's Mariota's attitude and work ethic that make him stand out.
"He's eager to learn, compete and prove to people he can play," he said. "He is very sharp, passionate about the game. He can remember everything you put on a chalkboard over several hours and he can go out and execute it quickly."
Whether the Titans will even draft a quarterback remains to be seen. But if they take Mariota, Gruden says, they won't be disappointed.
"I think Ken Whisenhunt has proven over the years that he can adapt to Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner and a young man like Zach Mettenberger," he said. "It's up to the staff of the entire organization, if they go with a young quarterback, to make sure they give him the proper training and put him out there when they see fit. But I'm confident Mariota will be a fit in any offense."
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota makes a pre-draft visit with Titans officials Thursday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)