How long Marcus Mariota plays Saturday night – and it almost certainly won’t be more than a series or two – isn’t as big a deal as the simple fact that he is playing in the preseason opener against the New York Jets.
When last Mariota was an in NFL game, he was being carted off the field with a broken right fibula that required surgery and months of rehab work. And while he is looked good in training camp practices, players know there are strict orders not to put their quarterback in even the hint of harm’s way on the practice field.
Coach Mike Mularkey, who said Monday that Mariota would play, hasn’t yet committed to how long his starting quarterback will go against the Jets. There is a limit on the number of plays, but some of that will be determined by how successful the offense is at the outset. One 10-play drive to start the game could make it an early night for Mariota and many of the other starters for that matter. A three-and-out on the first series might necessitate the need for another series.
“We’ll probably go in with a number of plays and see how productive he is. That’s the target,” Mularkey said.
Saturday night, even if it amounts only 10 or 12 snaps, things will be live, and Mariota will be subject to taking a hit on his reconstructed leg for the first time.
“I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun to be out there with the guys again and shake some of the cobwebs off. It’s been a while, I’m looking forward to it,” Mariota said Wednesday.
Dusting off the cobwebs for Mariota entails more than just being under duress and being involved in being hit.
“It’s been six months since I’ve been back on the field. Just going out there, having a play clock, going through the mechanics of getting in and out of the huddle, working third-down situations, all sorts of game-like scenarios. From that standpoint it’s just working that rust off and making sure we’re ready to go once the season rolls around,” he said.
Mariota said he doesn’t think much about what being hit for the first time will be like. It is just part of the game.
“I don’t even think about it to be honest with you. It’s part of the game. It’s a contact sport, so at some point I’ll get hit, that’s part of it. I’m not worried about it,” Mariota said. “I’ll just go out there and prepare and make sure that I get these guys going in the right direction.”
Mariota threw the media a curveball on Wednesday as he sported a brace on his left knee. That is something he says he always wears and will continue to do so. He just usually has it on underneath his uniform pants, instead of having it visible on the outside.
“I’ve been wearing the brace. Today I was lazy, I just didn’t want to put it underneath my tights, so I just put it over. I’ve been wearing it,” he said. “I think this is something I’ll do for the rest of my career.”
Mariota twice had sprained MCLs in his rookie season, injuries that cost him a total of four games that year.
Neither the brace nor the leg surgery seems to have hampered his mobility, as Mariota said he feels just as explosive in his takeoffs as he did before he was injured.
“That’s things that I’ve worked on in my rehab process. As of now I feel good,” he said.
Linebacker Erik Walden, who was out Monday with a groin injury, has been back and practicing for two straight days now.
Running back DeMarco Murray continues to be eased back in with a hamstring issue. He has been doing some work on the side in recent days, but has not gone beyond that.
Defensive end Karl Klug (ankle) and receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) remain out.
Cornerback Demontre Hurst was hobbling a bit at the end of practice as the defensive backs were running post-practice sprints.