NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Going into the final year of his rookie contract, Marcus Mariota has not changed anything about how he prepares for this season.
That includes no talk of holding out or public demands for a new contract.
The Tennessee Titans quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner out of Oregon prefers to show up and work hard during the voluntary offseason program to be the best he can be.
“Let it ride,” Mariota said Tuesday. “I mean, no matter what still I get to come out here. I get to play a game that I love and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Mariota’s injury history is the reason why the Titans have yet to sign the former Ducks star to an extension after picking up his option for 2019 at $20.9 million. He has missed at least one game a season and eight games combined through his first four years, and he is coming off a season in which he passed for a career-worst 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Having a revolving cast of coaches has not helped.
Mike Vrabel is Mariota’s third head coach since being drafted No. 2 overall in 2015, and Arthur Smith is his fourth offensive coordinator and fifth play-caller. Vrabel promoted Smith from coaching tight ends to make the transition as smooth as possible — the only offensive change after coordinator Matt LaFleur was hired as Green Bay’s new head coach.
“I hope that there’s a lot of carry-over,” Vrabel said of his offense.
Both Mariota and the Titans have plenty of room for improvement on offense. Thanks to a dominant December by Derrick Henry running the ball, Tennessee ranked seventh in that category in 2018. The Titans ranked 29th in passing offense, managing a mere 189.5 yards per game after losing Mariota’s top target — three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker — in the opener.
Mariota passed for more than 300 yards only once, in an overtime win over Philadelphia, and in three games the Titans failed to reach even 100 yards passing. Mariota missed three starts, including the regular-season finale when a victory would have earned a second straight playoff berth.
The Titans upgraded Mariota’s backup, trading for Ryan Tannehill in March. They also signed wide receiver Adam Humphries and new left guard Rodger Saffold to improve the offensive line while drafting another receiver in A.J. Brown to give both Mariota and the offense a boost.
“I feel like as a team we’ve made some good choices, and hopefully they can bring something dynamic to the offense,” Walker said.
Mariota would not bite when asked how little he needs Tannehill to play this season.
“No matter what, I know he’ll be prepared if it comes to that and he’ll make the most of his opportunity,” Mariota said.
The Titans made clear when they traded for the 30-year-old Tannehill that Mariota, 25, remains their starter, though that has not stopped speculation that Tannehill was brought in to push Mariota.
“His job is not in jeopardy,” Vrabel said of Mariota.
The quarterback and Smith know each other well, having spent the past four seasons together through all the different schemes. Mariota said Smith also makes it easy for players to talk to him about what they like and don’t like.
Mariota, who sat out the final game last season because of nerve issues affecting his throwing arm, looked fine on the second day of the Titans’ organized team activities in the final phase of the offseason program. Mariota threw short, midrange and long passes.
The quarterback said he wishes those health issues had not happened, especially at the end of the season. He is working to be healthier, having gained a few extra pounds to help. But he is not going to worry about the concerns others have about his durability.
“Other people’s opinions don’t matter to me,” Mariota said. “I just got to be the best I can be for this team.”