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VOL. 43 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 9, 2019

Tannehill puts QB understudy role in perspective

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Titans quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill (17), Logan Woodside, center, and Marcus Mariota (8) leave the field after an organized team activity at the Titans’ NFL football training facility in June.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Ryan Tannehill admits the approach is taking some getting used to.

After seven years as a starting quarterback in the NFL, the former Miami Dolphins’ first-round pick is in a new role and not necessarily one he would have asked for. Tannehill, acquired by the Titans in a trade this spring, comes to a training camp for the first time in his career as a non-starter. His job is to backup starter Marcus Mariota and be ready if and when he is called upon to come in and lead the offense.

“It’s a big opportunity. Obviously a change for me, being a starter for seven years and stepping into a backup role is a difficult change,” says Tannehill, who has started all 88 games he has been available for over his seven-year career. “But I’m trying to embrace it. I come out and try to compete every day and get a little better every day, learn this offense and get to know my guys better and just build that relationship and that trust on the field and just take advantage.

“You never know what is going to happen in this league. I’m just trying to prepare to be my best when my number is called to go out there and lead this offense.”

The Titans insist that Mariota is their starter this season, even though he (and Tannehill, too, for that matter) is coming into the final year of his contract in 2019. But because injuries have pelted him throughout his career, the presence of Tannehill puts a different spin on the Titans quarterback situation than at any other time since Mariota came in as a first-rounder himself in 2015.

Over his first four seasons, when Mariota was knocked out of a game early or was unavailable to make his start because of injury, it had the Titans scrambling to try and tape things together on offense either with a young backup like Zach Mettenberger or journeyman vets like Matt Cassel and Blaine Gabbert. None of those exactly were confidence-inspiring options.

Which is what makes Tannehill’s presence so important for the Titans in 2019. Sure, there is the potential for an unwanted quarterback controversy to develop if Tannehill were to perform well filling in during a Mariota injury, or if the Titans were start the season slowly.

But for Titans coach Mike Vrabel, it appears that risk of any of that bubbling to the surface is certainly worth the reward of having a competent No. 2 quarterback who is able to come in and steady the course in the event Mariota finds the trainers’ room yet again this season. The coach made note of that last Thursday when Tannehill was given a shot to run the two-minute offense with the first team in practice.

“Ryan comes in early, stays late, always studying. He’s really becoming more comfortable in what we’re asking him to do offensively. He did a nice job with the two-minute drill (in a Thursday practice). That’s a nice luxury,” Vrabel says.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill runs a drill during an organized team activity at the Titans’ NFL football training facility June 11, 2019, in Nashville.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

“That’s not a young backup that’s going in there for the first time operating the two-minute drill. This is a guy that’s done it in games and has executed it. I thought that was really great to see.

“He’s been supportive but then he’s also performed well. He’s not just there to hold a clipboard, he’s there to compete and do the best job that he can and try to make everybody around him better.”

As for any potential quarterback controversy that might creep into the equation, both Mariota and Tannehill say that idea is not a part of the Titans building for the regular season. The idea is to work together, they add, for the betterment of the team.

“Marcus is great. I’ve enjoyed him since the first day I got here. He’s been great to work with. He’s a great dude and that makes it easy to work with a guy and backup a guy,” Tannehill points out. “If you like a guy as a person and see how he works and how he prepares, and he’s a good dude, it makes it a lot more enjoyable. It makes the day-to-day grind a lot more fun.

“I’ve enjoyed working with him so far, and I expect we’ll continue that throughout the year.”

Mariota voiced nothing but pleasure that Tannehill comes in as his backup this season, and has already made a friend in Tannehill’s young son Steele, who has visited the practice field a few times during camp this summer.

“Ryan is an unbelievable guy in and out of the building. I’ve gotten to meet some of his family, his son Steele,” Mariota says. “For us, just another guy that’s had experience playing at the position, kind of understands the ups and the downs, and kind of understands, ‘What’s the expectation for you as a player?’ To have another guy in your room that supports you just means the world. I’m thankful he’s here, he’s going to continue to push kind of the entire room to a better place. He’s done a great job so far.”

Vrabel, who played 14 years in the NFL himself, knows that Tannehill probably isn’t happy with his reduced role on a new team. But he appreciates that the veteran is handling the situation like a pro.

“There were a lot of things I went through over the course of 14 years, and I’m sure that was one of them. You always try to be ready, but in the end you try to do what’s best for the team with a great attitude.

“You don’t have to like it, but you agree with it. That’s how we do a lot of things,” Vrabel says.

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