Every year, the NFL has at least one breakout performance by a quarterback that puts him on the map.
Last season, it was Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles in his second season. In 2014, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck had his career year and was a game away from taking the Colts to the Super Bowl. And 2013 saw Carolina’s Cam Newton emerge as a legitimate NFL quarterback, leading the Panthers to a 12-4 record.
This season, that quarterback will be Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota.
As a rookie, Mariota completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 12 games. The only thing that kept him from putting up even better numbers was poor offensive line play that led to him getting sacked 36 times. He also missed four games because of injuries sustained by those hits.
Mariota had flashes of greatness in his rookie season but was held back due to injuries and lack of talent on the roster. But much like Bortles did with Jacksonville last year, Mariota is poised to take that next step in his second year in the NFL. The talent is certainly there.
In his two preseason games with the Titans this year, Mariota has only had one incompletion in 15 pass attempts. Granted, that incomplete pass was an interception, but other than that blemish, he has looked nearly flawless in the preseason. In his two brief appearances, Mariota has completed 14 of his 15 passes for 149 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He’s also run the ball twice for 13 yards.
Another promising sign? He’s only been sacked once.
The sample size is small, but that lone sack given up by the starting offensive line during Mariota’s snaps could be the best news of the preseason so far for the Titans. In his 12 starts last year, Mariota only had one game in which he wasn’t sacked. He had multiple games where he took five or more sacks.
Protection was the issue for Mariota and the Titans last season. And it can’t be the problem again this year.
Mariota’s health is the biggest factor in the Titans’ success or failure in 2016. The Titans only won three game last year, but none of those wins came without Mariota at quarterback. Tennessee’s front office made the offensive line a priority this offseason, and so far it looks to be paying off in both pass protection and the run game.
Speaking of the run game: That too will help Mariota have a more successful 2016.
The Titans brought in major upgrades at running back this offseason, trading for Philadelphia’s DeMarco Murray and drafting Alabama’s Derrick Henry in the second round. Both have produced exceptionally so far this preseason, totaling 218 yards and two scores on 26 carries combined in two preseason games.
As a team last season, the Titans averaged a mere 92.8 yards per game on the ground and had just 10 rushing touchdowns. In fact, the Titans never had a running back eclipse 100 yards in a single game last year.
Mariota did it against Jacksonville in a 42-39 shootout, but no Titans’ running back had a 100-yard game last season.
Even in a down year, Murray had one 100-yard game with the Eagles. And in the previous season with Dallas, he had 12 100-yard games. In college, Henry had 10 100-yard games as a senior, including four 200-yard games.
Then there’s the weapons in the passing game.
While still not up to par to most of the NFL, the Titans’ receiving corps looks stronger than it did last season, and Mariota appears to have more chemistry with them so far this preseason.
Yes, it’s only the preseason, and everything that happens in the preseason shouldn’t be taken as truth. The early signs for Mariota and the offense are promising, though, and that could lead to a breakout season for the Titans’ quarterback.