NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When center Ben Jones joined the Titans in free agency last March, he immediately began developing a bond with his new offensive line mates.
And Marcus Mariota.
A year later, the center/quarterback relationship has grown on and off the field.
"I talk to Marcus all the time,'' Jones said. "He's a good friend. These days he's always asking me if I am playing golf, how my golf game is going, and things like that. When I was in New Zealand I reached out to him because he was planning on going around the same time I was going and I know he was hating he missed that. But he is working hard.
"Marcus is a guy who has his head on straight, and he's a great guy, a team guy. If he had to be back now, I know he would be back because of how hard he pushes himself. You know Marcus is going to be ready when it is time."
Mariota, who's recovering from the fractured fibula he suffered last December, has spent parts of his offseason in Nashville, Oregon and Hawaii.
The Titans are scheduled to begin their offseason program on Monday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. Titans coach Mike Mularkey has said the team plans to be patient with Mariota as he works his way back from the injury.
"He has high spirits,'' Jones said of Mariota. "Because this is the stage when he's making all the progress. At first when you're in the boot, you are frustrated because you can't do what you want. But now in his treatment and in the process, you can see the gains and he is getting better. I am happy to see it."
Jones, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Houston Texans, said his relationship developed quickly with Mariota.
Not only are the two on the same page on the field, but off it as well, Jones said.
"I think we work really well together,'' Jones said. "It's always been great working with Marcus. He is really smart – one of the smartest guys I've played with making calls. Every play I felt like we had a good grasp on what we were going to see each game. We spent a lot of time outside of just meetings, just talking through the blitzes we'd see that week, what was going to be good in two-minute and hurry-up that we needed to get into.
"We've always been very open about things and the relationship just continues to build. Marcus would go to the dinner with the o-line every week. He sits by us on the plane, and we play cards together every week in the hotel. So we spend a lot of time together and in the offseason we play golf."
Jones made his comments last week while discussing his first annual Ben Jones Celebrity Clay Shoot on May 12 at the Nashville Gun Club. Spots still remain for those 18 years or older, including a number of team slots, for the event, which benefits the Ronald McDonald House.
Roughly 20-25 Titans are scheduled to take part in the event, hosted by Jones and his wife, Alex. The event will directly benefit families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville by helping fund a kitchen remodeling project. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.BenJonesclayshoot.com.
Jones said he's already looking forward to the 2017 season.
Has no doubt Mariota will be ready, and in the huddle with him on Week One.
"He'll be ready to go way before that, 100 percent,'' Jones said of Mariota. "But he is going to take his time because we want to make sure he is completely, 100 percent healthy for this year because we are looking forward to a big year.
"I am excited about what's ahead. Coming from the Texans to here, it was definitely a change. But this whole offense, we want to be a physical offensive line that wants to run the football, and we showed everybody in the league we can do that. Now teams know what we are going to do, and we have to put another year together running the ball and keeping Marcus upright. I think we have the line, the running backs and the quarterback to have another good year."