Oh the irony that a quarterback the Titans moved on from nearly three months ago as their starter might end up being a key cog as they prepare for the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoffs on Saturday.
Marcus Mariota, benched after Tennessee was shut out in Denver in week six, might have a big hand in helping the Titans defense prepare for Baltimore’s elusive QB Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ run-pass option style offense.
One of the big factors that Ravens opponents have spoken of preparing for and in the aftermath of facing Jackson is that his style with ball fakes and his elusiveness are hard to imitate and simulate in practice.
But in Mariota, the Titans perhaps have a hidden advantage in that he operated a similar spread system in Oregon and has speed close to Jackson that is rarely seen at the quarterback position.
“Well, we’ll need good speed. That’s something that’s critical,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of preparing for the Ravens. “They’re doing a great job (outscoring teams) 128 to 31 in the first quarter, you know. My guess is that that speed looks a lot different during the game than what it did in practice. So, hopefully we can get that speed and get that look as close to what we are going see in the game. It won’t be the same, but it’s going to be, I think, pretty good with what Marcus (Mariota) can do and hopefully the look that we can give our guys.”
Linebacker Rashaan Evans appreciates the similarity of Mariota’s skill set and what that can bring to the scout team to help the defense get a better-than-normal look in practice at an unusual scheme and unique player in Jackson.
“Anytime you’ve got a talented, dual threat type QB who is able to run fast and throw the ball, it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a really good look. Marcus is probably about as fast, and the fact that we have Marcus here to give us those looks, it does wonders,” Evans said.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said that preparing for Jackson and the Ravens goes much deeper than just simulating the speed, but that Mariota’s similar skillset can help his group in their preparation for Baltimore.
“Obviously him being able to run some of that stuff helps us a little bit in practice. The biggest thing in practice is not only simulating the quarterback, but simulating all the blocking and the scheme, because it’s different for our o-linemen too,” Pees said. “All those guys have to do it off a card. The card looks great when it’s standing there and stationary, but all of a sudden, things move, and you don’t block it quite the same. Baltimore’s offensive line coach Joe D (D’Alessandris) has them schooled up on how to block movement and stuff like that. Sometimes out here we look great going over everything, and it’s not quite the same.”
Still , Pees admits, having a true quarterback with mobility running the scout team gives his defense a better look than putting a receiver or running back at quarterback to imitate Jackson’s quickness in practice.
“But going back to your question, Marcus will certainly a big deal. I’ve never before, whether it be at Baltimore or at New England, you’re trying to simulate some type of quarterback like that, and all you’ve got is a dropback guy. So you’re having to take a wide receiver or running back or something and put them at quarterback and try and simulate. Basically when you’re talking about reading somebody on the zone read, it’s hard to simulate that,” Pees said.
Mariota, who has been supportive of his teammates since the benching, said he just wants to help in any way possible.
“I hope it can help out a lot. I just try to provide a look for these guys that’s similar to the game. I’m going to do my best and do what they ask. I’m just going to go out there and do what I can,” Mariota said.