NASHVILLE – Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota looked across the line of scrimmage on Wednesday and saw a team in a different uniform at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are in town, and their presence provides the Titans a chance to get better while preparing for the 2019 season.
Mariota, set to begin his fifth NFL season, said he's also competing against himself. He wants to be the "best version" of himself this fall.
The addition of veteran Ryan Tannehill, who played well in the team's preseason opener, gives the team its best back-up plan since Mariota arrived in Tennessee in 2015. But Mariota said on Wednesday his focus is on getting better when asked how much the former Dolphins QB has pushed him.
"Having Ryan in our room has been a tremendous addition," Mariota said. "That competition, year in and year out for me, is with myself. I just look to be the best version of myself, but Ryan adds a guy who has done it, has experience, can talk about things we see in practice. Even today, different things the Patriots are doing, just being able to communicate and be there, be another set of eyes for each other.
"But when it comes down to it I am just competing against myself. I just try to be the best version that I can be, day in and day out."
Mariota complimented Tannehill on Wednesday, pointing out his accuracy and his ability to keep his eyes downfield while under stress. Tannehill completed 12-of-16 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the team's preseason opener at Philadelphia. He threw two interceptions in Wednesday's practice session against the Patriots, however.
Mariota, meanwhile, had mixed results against the Patriots. The offense was a little unsteady early before settling in during a 7-on-7 period when Mariota completed 5-of-6 passes, including a strike to receiver Corey Davis.
Mariota and the offense struggled in a third down period, when the QB went just 1-of-6, with his one completion going to receiver Taywan Taylor.
In a team period near the end of practice, Mariota stepped up and made a nice pass to Taylor, and he also connected with Sharpe, as the offense ended the practice on a high note.
"It was just a great opportunity to work against another team," Mariota, who completed 4-of-8 passes for 24 yards in one series vs. the Eagles, said of the Patriots. "For us, you are just not trying to win practice. You are just trying to build going into September. But I think it was a great opportunity to see what guys will do with somebody else in front of them. We made some plays, and there's stuff that we can build off of."
Mariota acknowledged the team needs to improve on third down, but he said he likes the way the team has operated overall in practices.
He's also enjoyed seeing Taylor bounce back this week after some drops in the preseason opener against the Eagles. Taylor caught a 50-yard bomb from Tannehill on Wednesday, and he also made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a big gain.
"Art always talks about it's a process, and you are going to have good days and bad days," Mariota said of OC Arthur Smith, when discussing Taylor. "And you can't ride the rollercoaster, you have to stay even keel throughout. I think Tay did a great job of kind of taking that to heart and coming out here and making plays today."
During the course of training camp, Mariota and the Titans offense has hardly worked at full strength.
Tight end Delanie Walker and running back Derrick Henry didn't practice on Wednesday, and receiver Adam Humphries left early. Rookie A.J. Brown just returned to practice recently, and receiver Corey Davis has been limited as well.
The Titans haven't had a team period yet when all of the team's playmakers have been available.
Mariota said he's not concerned about who has been out. Again, he's concentrating on himself and the guys who are available.
"Honestly, you can't worry about that," Mariota said. "Through the course of a season you are going to have to deal with different situations and different guys. When it comes down to it, it is a tough and it is a long year, and any time you have a chance to work with more players then your comfort level with the entire room goes up and just makes you feel confident when you play. You just have to go out there and play with what you've got, and credit goes to the young receivers coming in because guys have made plays throughout camp."
The Titans practice again with the Patriots on Thursday. The two teams will play a preseason game on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.
The Tennessee Titans participate in the first of two days of joint practices with the New England Patriots at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Donald Page, Jourdan Gottlieb)