Will Titans QB Marcus Mariota Run More in New Offense?



INDIANAPOLIS –** The Titans have a new head coach, and a new offensive coordinator.

Will the returning quarterback take on a different look in 2018?

More specifically, will Marcus Mariota run the ball more?

"I think that we have an idea what plays he may end up running and what plays he may end up handing it off or throwing," coach Mike Vrabel said from the NFL Combine. "We've got to be smart, and he's got to be smart. How much are we going to use him to run the ball? How much harm is he going to put himself in? There's a lot of factors that go into it – the risk/reward of when he does run with the football.

"So we get all those things, and I think we've got to be smart with how we use him and he's got to be smart with how he takes care of his body."

Mariota might have a mean stiff-arm (just ask Jaguars safety Barry Church), but he's no stiff.

In his first three NFL seasons, Mariota has 913 rushing yards on 154 carries – an average of 5.9 yards per attempt. Mariota ran the ball 60 times for 312 yards in 2017, a year after racking up 349 rushing yards on the same amount of carries in 2016.

The longest run of Mariota's career came during his rookie season, when he sprinted 87 yards for a score against the Jaguars. Right now, he's just one more 87-yard sprint for 1,000 career rushing yards.

In a new offense, some believe the Titans will put Mariota on the move more than previous seasons with run-pass options and plays outside the pocket, but how much he takes off and runs remains to be seen. With a run-pass option plays, the quarterback makes a decision to either run or throw in a play designed with options for both. Many times the decision is based on the alignment of the defense, especially on the edge.

"The thing is being able to allow the player, Marcus in this case, to take his talents, and just be natural with it," former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart said of Mariota in a recent interview with Titans Online. "When we saw him at Oregon, we saw the RPOs, which is something he hasn't done since he's been with the Tennessee Titans. If you can add that functionality to it a little bit, it gives him a chance to be himself. Being able to move and run a little bit is a big part of why he's been so successful and why he won a Heisman Trophy.

"If you can bring that kid-like life back to the game for him, you'll have a chance to see his talents flourish the way they should."

Mariota, who ran for 2,237 yards in college, suffered a season-ending fibula injury in Week 16 of the 2016 when he was tackled from behind in a game at Jacksonville. He dealt with a knee injury as a rookie when he was hit in the pocket.

Last season, Mariota missed one game with a hamstring injury. He did most of his damage on the ground late in the season. Mariota ran for 60 yards in Dec. 31 win against the Jaguars – the game he stiff-armed Church – and in a playoff game win at Kansas City, Mariota ran for 46 yards. He ran for 37 yards in a season-ending playoff loss to the Patriots.

Titans general manager Jon Robinson cracked a joke when asked about Mariota's health at the NFL Combine. He referenced the quarterback's involvement in this year's fundraiser for ALS.

"(It's) good," Robinson said with a smile. "He might have a little heartburn after that pepper challenge."

Vrabel, who is still getting to know Mariota, is excited about what he hopes will be a great pairing.

Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur have both spent some time with Mariota, who has been training in California in recent weeks.

"He's just a great human being," Vrabel said of Mariota. "I think if he's half the player that he is a person, we're going to be really excited. I got to know him before he went on his travels and went to wherever he's at. We communicate via text and I'm just trying to get to know him. I'm trying to get to know our quarterback and that relationship is going to be critical. He's a great human being."

TitansOnline.com looks back at QB Marcus Mariota's 2017 season. (AP Photos)

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