Mike Mularkey wanted his franchise quarterback to get his blood flowing from Play 1 of the Tennessee Titans‘ preseason opener Saturday. So he called for Marcus Mariota to use his legs and roll out to his right on play-action. Mariota outraced charging New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson to the right sideline, then fired a 15-yard bullet pass to Rishard Matthews for a completion.
And with that, Mariota is officially back. In his first game since suffering a broken right leg Christmas Eve, Mariota did a little bit of everything to knock the cobwebs off Saturday. He used his legs to scramble and move around the pocket, and he took his first hit, bouncing back up quickly.
“It felt great,” Mariota told the Titans team site about his return. “A lot of hard work was put into it and I’m very blessed for the opportunity. It was just a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the opportunity I had.”
Added Mularkey on Mariota’s performance: “I was pretty pleased with him.”
The Titans’ offense struggled a lot more than they would have liked in their 7-3 loss to the Jets in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Titans’ most important takeaway, however, was Mariota having two drives looking like the same quarterback he has been for much of his career.
“It was OK, but I didn’t think it was good enough,” said Mariota, who’s set to enter his third season. Mularkey agreed.
Mariota finished 2-of-3 for 15 passing yards, one rush for 6 yards and one solid sack from Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The pass to Matthews was Mariota’s best of his brief, nine-play appearance, and his legs appeared to be just as healthy as his arm.
QB depth chart: Mariota is healthy and ready to go as the starting quarterback, but most of Saturday’s action went to 29-year-old Alex Tanney. The Titans’ backup-QB competition has some intrigue because Tanney is out of practice-squad eligibility, meaning the team will have to keep him and Matt Cassel on the active roster or choose between them. Tanney showed toughness, taking a shot in the mouth on his first play, but turnovers, sacks and incompletions defined his night. Tanney finished 11-of-27 for 132 passing yards, one interception, one fumble and seven sacks.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Titans looked …: Lackluster. The Jets aren’t the cream of the NFL crop, so it was a little concerning when they had their way with the Titans’ starters on both sides of the ball. Josh McCown torched the Tennessee’s first-team secondary for an eight-play, 78-yard opening touchdown drive, highlighted by a 53-yard deep completion to Robby Anderson over Logan Ryan. The Titans’ offense, meanwhile, couldn’t consistently move the chains.
One reason to be concerned: Mularkey will have plenty of teaching points for his starting offense in the coming week after Saturday’s struggles. The unit totaled 20 yards in its two drives together. Mularkey was particularly displeased with the offensive line’s performance; it gave up eight total sacks and left Mariota running more often than the Titans wanted. There were far too many unblocked defenders coming after Titans quarterbacks.
That guy could start: Taywan Taylor, a 2017 third-round pick, has a bunch of competition ahead of him, but he could be Tennessee’s third receiver while first-round wideout Corey Davis continues to miss time with a hamstring injury. Taylor looked to be the Titans’ most explosive offensive player Saturday, consistently getting behind the Jets defense for deep passes. He finished with a team-high four catches for 56 yards, including a 42-yard completion.
Rookie watch: Jayon Brown. Outside of Taylor, Brown was the most impressive rookie Saturday, flashing his chops as a run-stopper and in pass coverage. Brown, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA, is extremely fast and athletic. Brown finished with four tackles and a tackle for loss. He could earn a role as the Titans’ nickel linebacker.
Don’t forget about Harry: Talk to some of the Titans’ rookie receivers and they’ll speak about how influential veteran Harry Douglas has been to their development. It’s ironic, because those young receivers could end up taking Douglas’ job. He isn’t going down without a fight, impressing Saturday with three catches for 49 yards.
Lineup shakeup: Second-year nose tackle Antwaun Woods got the start Saturday, a tribute to his strong training-camp performance. It’s too early to read much into the decision, given Sylvester Williams‘ status as the starter, but Woods is in a great spot to make the roster. Woods got a lot of reps in the first and second half.
Missing Murray: Derrick Henry has looked strong throughout training camp, but Saturday was the first time in a while it appeared the Titans missed DeMarco Murray. The veteran back sat out while recovering from his hamstring injury and the run game couldn’t get much going. Henry had eight carries for 29 yards.