NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Mike Mularkey's first priority as interim head coach of the Titans is to win football games.
Keeping star quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy – and from getting hit – is also at the top of the list.
On the day the organization relieved Ken Whisenhunt of his duties, Mularkey got a big reminder of just how important the two of those matters are moving forward.
"Amy (Adams Strunk)…has repeatedly mentioned Marcus (Mariota)'s health to me,'' said Titans interim president/CEO Steve Underwood, speaking of the team's controlling owner. "I think she actually spoke to Mike (Mularkey) about it this morning. I know she had talked to Ken about it and to (GM) Ruston (Webster). She is very concerned about making sure that we do everything that's necessary, including keeping (Marcus) out of games, in order to avoid making his current injuries any worse."
Mariota, the second overall pick of the NFL Draft, was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month in September after throwing for 833 yards, eight touchdowns and just two interceptions in his first three starts. His quarterback passer rating of 109.2 was the eighth-best passer rating in NFL history in a player's first three starts.
Mariota has missed the last two games, however, because of a sprained MCL he suffered in the team's 38-10 loss to the Dolphins, when he was sacked five times. Mariota has been sacked 19 times in his first five NFL starts.
On Sunday in Houston, back-up quarterback Zach Mettenberger was sacked seven times in a 20-6 defeat.
Needless to say, protecting the quarterback is a big concern for Mularkey.
In fact, he told Mariota just that on Tuesday, not long after getting the job.
"I just told him we're going to do a couple things different with him,'' Mularkey said of Mariota. "Try to make sure he stays upright and it was really just, not real in-depth. But we're on the same page."
TitansOnline.com looks back at the last two seasons with new interim head coach Mike Mularkey. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
Offensive coordinator Jason Michael will call plays for the Titans, a role Whisenhunt held since he took over as head coach prior to the 2014 season.
Mularkey said the Titans plan to make some changes up front to help protect Mariota, who could return for Sunday's game against the Saints if he has a good week of practice, with no setbacks.
Mularkey said he hopes to take advantage of Mariota's skill set, and ability.
"Without showing our hand, things that going back to my days in Pittsburgh as a coordinator, with a quarterback that's as talented as Marcus (Mariota) is, his ability to do some things like I had with Kordell (Stewart) back in Pittsburgh, and then his ability to do like Matt (Ryan) I had in Atlanta,'' Mularkey said. "He's got a lot of the similarities to both of those guys which is being dangerous to defenses. You'll see some different things, whether you recognize it or not, it will be."
Mularkey reiterated keeping Mariota from getting hit is a top priority.
"We have to make changes there,'' Mularkey said. "On the offensive line, there will be some roster changes there. I won't go into depth with that, but everybody really is involved with that. Everybody really, receivers, route running, the speeds, the depths, the precision, the backs, everything, tight ends included. Everybody can help with our protections, including the coaching staff first putting the schemes together to ensure that happens.
"I think obviously, based on what's happened in the last couple of weeks with the protections, that's imperative. That's part of the 'don't beat yourself' mentality. The guy is so accurate, if we can get the ball out like he's capable of doing, I think you'll see a lot of improvements in a lot of different areas, especially on third down. I think that will improve."