NASHVILLE, Tenn. – ESPN's Jon Gruden is sold on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
By the end of Mariota's rookie season, the former NFL head coach believes the rest of the league will be as well.
Gruden tabbed Mariota as his pick for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year during a conference call on Wednesday. Don Banks of Sports Illustrated made a similar prediction in a recent column about the league's quarterbacks.
Gruden, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Buccaneers, spent time with Mariota during his annual quarterback camp leading up to the NFL Draft. After watching him perform in the preseason, he's been even more impressed.
"I have seen him, and I think his mental toughness has been on display, No.1,'' Gruden said. "You saw him turn the ball over against Atlanta, a couple times I think, in the first 10-15 plays. And then you saw him string together some really good football. I saw him fall way behind on the road at Kansas City, then he hung in there and engineered a couple of really good drives. I like the way he is playing under center. Ken Whisenhunt has put him under the center a lot. It looks like he is in rhythm, he is doing some really good things and I think he has impressed a lot of people with the way he has thrown the football."
Mariota has completed 19-of-27 passes for 252 yards in three preseason contests, and has a passer rating of 84.2. He has just 17 rushing yards on five carries.
When Mariota uses his legs, he'll be even more dangerous, Gruden said. Mariota ran for 2,237 yards and 29 touchdowns at Oregon, where he won the Heisman Trophy.
"A lot of people are shocked that he hasn't taken off and run yet. I think that is when you are going to see the greatness of Marcus Mariota,'' Gruden said. "He's a double-edged sword, he's a great competitor, and I like the way they are bringing him along. I just think Mariota and his skill set, the deception that he'll bring with the zone read and the scrambling ability will be a real tool for him.
"If I was a Tennessee Titans fans, I'd be really, really happy."
Gruden said he thinks the Titans are improving on the offensive line, and he offered praise for left tackle Taylor Lewan.
He expressed some concern about the team's defense, however.
"(The defense) has a lot to prove there,'' Gruden said. "And who is the running back? Who are the receivers? Some of the skill set needs to step up as well."
Gruden has no doubts about Mariota, however.
That's why he's picking him as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015.
"I am going to take Mariota. I'll take Marcus. I'll stand by my guy,'' Gruden said. "I have been wrong several times, but I think this time Marcus has a chance to prove even me right."