COLUMBIA, Tenn. —Marcus Mariota joined the Titans this time last year, and he was quickly embraced by the team's fan base.
Traveling on the Titans Caravan on Wednesday, Mariota found out just how popular he is – one photo, one signature, and one handshake, at a time.
In Nashville and beyond, the Titans quarterback can sense the excitement.
"I think everyone in the locker room can feel a little bit of buzz, even around the community,'' Mariota said. "And that is awesome, that is what we need. And as we continue to get better, hopefully that will continue to grow. We need to continue to build on that for the season."
Mariota signed helmets, posters, hats and jerseys on Wednesday here at the Kroger off Nashville Highway. He also signed action figures, dollar bills, and body parts. Fans came decked out in Titans gear and Oregon gear. Before he was a Titan, Mariota was a Duck, of course.
With kicker Ryan Succop and new safety Rashad Johnson to his left, Mariota signed for over an hour for fans young and old. Throughout the appearance, the crowd wrapped through two aisles, and out the door.
Mariota enjoyed it. He was headed to Florence and Decatur, Alabama, later in the day.
"Every year they used to bring the Pro Bowl (to Hawaii), and (I'd) stand in line and meet some of the players,'' Mariota recalled. "It is something new to me to be on this side of it. But growing up I have done some of these before. … I just try to be myself, and try to be the best player for the Tennessee Titans."
This offseason, the Titans have made moves to help Mariota get better.
The Titans drafted 10 players in last weekend's NFL Draft, including tackle Jack Conklin in the first round, and bruising back in Derrick Henry in the second round. It came on the heels of a busy free agency that saw the Titans add 10 new players, including a trade for veteran running back DeMarco Murray. The Titans also signed free agent receiver Rishard Matthews.
"I just think it adds another dimension to this offseason,'' Mariota said of the additions. "It doesn't allow us to be single-minded, it allows us to be a lot more versatile. Having a variety of guys who can make plays will make the offense that much better."
Mariota said he's excited about the addition of Henry, last year's Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama.
"I think what's great about those two from what I hear is they are great in pass protection,'' Mariota said of Murray and Henry, "and they are willing to do anything and everything to get the ball moving forward."
The Titans have also clearly made a concerted effort to add durable players in front of Mariota, in an effort to protect him. After signing former Texans center Ben Jones in free agency, the team drafted Conklin first and then added Arkansas guard Sebastian Tretola in the fifth round.
"I just want to see us get better,'' Mariota said. "I think what (General Manager) Jon (Robinson) and coach (Mike) Mularkey have done is brought guys in and we just need to continue to compete and find ways to get better.
It is coming together, and we are excited. I think the group that was drafted can make an impact early. We look forward to getting to know them, and moving forward."
The Titans started the offseason program last month.
Next week, the rookies will arrive in town. Organized team activities begin later this month, and the team's minicamp is scheduled for next month. Training camp starts at the end of July.
"(Things have) been going good,'' Mariota said. "I am excited to be out there again, flying around. We are implementing everything (in the offseason program). Guys seem to be picking it up pretty quick. As we continue to move forwards, as the rookies come in, we'll continue to get everyone on the same page.
"And as we continue to get better, hopefully that buzz will continue to grow."