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VOL. 40 | NO. 40 | Friday, September 30, 2016

Fumbles, interceptions define Mariota’s season so far

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has already fumbled three times, losing two, and thrown four interceptions in three games, two of which the Titans have lost.

-- Ap Photo/James Kenney

For the first time in Marcus Mariota’s brief tenure as the Tennessee Titans starting quarterback, there were questions about how quickly he is progressing.

Just one week after being a hero in rallying the Titans to their only win with a comeback at Detroit, Mariota stumbled last Sunday against Oakland with three turnovers, tossing two interceptions and losing a fumble.

If you’re keeping score in the turnover department, Mariota now has four interceptions and a pair of lost fumbles in three games. That is an alarming number of turnovers, especially in light of Mariota making ball security and decision-making one of his priorities to improve upon from his rookie season.

Truth is, Mariota’s somewhat reckless abandon with the football is probably just something the Titans will have to live with, to a certain extent. The interception totals should diminish the more he becomes familiar with and wiser about reading defenses and how coverages are disguised.

After all, in his final year at Oregon, Mariota had progressed to the point that he threw just four interceptions for the entire 2014 season.

Granted, that was a spread system that Mariota ran with precision, and he is already on his second offensive scheme in as many years as a pro.

But in time, with more experience, better supporting personnel at receiver and some sort of continuity in schemes, the interception totals should begin to subside.

The fumbles, on the other hand, might just be something the Titans and Mariota have to deal with from time to time. It was a problem for him at Oregon, and an issue last season as a rookie in Tennessee.

Some of it, Mariota says, regarding both fumbles and interceptions, is a result of him trying to do too much rather than taking what is available on each play. That certainly appeared to be the case when the ball was stripped from him early in the game on a scramble.

“That’s just me being a competitor, and that’s why I’ve got to continue to learn,” Mariota says.

“I am trying to do too much rather, trying to fight for a first down, rather than just moving on and taking care of the football.

“I can do a better job of taking care of the ball and not trying to win the game on one throw. But again, it’s a process for me and I am doing my best to learn.”

But Mariota competing to the nth degree and occasionally getting burned by “doing too much” might just be who he is as a football player.

Coach Mike Mularkey, while adamant about not wanting the ball turned over, doesn’t want to bridle his young quarterback and make him too robotic either.

“You’ve got to be careful with it, because he is so good at that position. You don’t want to restrict him and what he’s capable of doing,” Mularkey says.

“I know what he’s trying to do. I know he’s trying to get to the line, but again, we’ve been pretty thorough about ball security with him when he gets outside the pocket. That’s a tough lesson, again, to learn.

“We’re going to stay on it until he starts doing it. We’re going to stay on him about it, but those are things I see him trying to do more is when he’s got the ball in his hand.”

So here is the dilemma the Titans and Mariota now face: Is this something that can be corrected and changed, or is it an innate part of Mariota’s game, this ultra-competitiveness that can sometimes backfire with costly mistakes.

The Titans have been through this before, in one respect. Their previous franchise QB hopeful, Jake Locker, had the same competitive spirit. But instead of a fumble problem, it was Locker’s physical style that too often put him in harm’s way, leading to too many injuries, too many missed games and an eventual early retirement from the NFL.

Mariota, even though he played spread offense in college, appears to be more advanced at this stage of his young career than either Locker or Vince Young were at the same juncture.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains and problems like Mariota experienced on Sunday.

The question now for the Titans is how much will Mariota learn from his mistakes and how many of them can be easily corrected.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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