NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Marcus Mariota sat down with his newest offensive coordinator Arthur Smith this offseason for a talk about what the Tennessee Titans want when the quarterback needs to freelance to make something happen.
The biggest message for Mariota: relax.
"For me, I've just got to go out there, not overthink things, just play within myself and just allow the game to come me," Mariota said.
The Tennessee Titans need to see if Mariota is their franchise quarterback beyond this season, and they've done their best to put him in position to prove he can do just that. Coach Mike Vrabel promoted from within , making Arthur Smith his offensive coordinator when Matt LaFleur left for Green Bay, and Smith's tweaks all have been about making the offense quarterback friendly.
"He's making it friendly for us to be able to operate," Mariota said. "Coach Vrabel talked about being able to command the operation. Art's really allowed us as quarterbacks to feel comfortable, feel confident in what we're doing so that all these pre-snap things can be cleaned up."
Vrabel talked with Mariota when last season ended with the quarterback healing from injuries that affected nerves in his neck into his right, throwing arm, and kept him out of the regular-season finale. The Titans lost that game and just missed the playoffs at 9-7.
One thing Vrabel asked was for the 6-foot-4 Mariota to add some weight after playing between 215 and 220 pounds last season. Mariota experimented during the offseason and hopes to weigh between 225 and 230 to help the quarterback's durability.
Mariota was sacked a career-worst 42 times, which contributed to him missing three starts with injuries. He also threw a career-low 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and he's playing his final season under contract because the Titans picked up his fifth-year option of $20.9 million in the spring of 2018.
The quarterback has had time to get used to playing a little heavier.
"It feels good," Mariota said.
The Titans also have surrounded Mariota with possibly the best offensive talent that he's had in the NFL. They upgraded at left guard signing veteran Rodger Saffold and also added wide receiver Adam Humphries as a free agent while drafting A.J. Brown.
Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker also started training camp available and healthy after breaking his right ankle in the 2018 season opener.
Unfortunately, Mariota will be without his three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan for the first four games this season — three of those on the road — with Lewan suspended for violating the policy against performance-enhancing substances. Veteran Dennis Kelly, who played 11 games last season, has worked in Lewan's spot at the start of camp with the first-team line.
Mariota says Kelly has stepped up when asked.
"Honestly, I just have to continue just to be myself," Mariota said. "I can't worry about what's going on up front, I've got to continue to keep my eyes down the field. I trust every single one of those guys in the building. There's a reason why they're here. I've just got to go out there and continue to do my job."
It's up to Mariota to show what he can do after being one of four Titans honored for their offseason work in the weight room and studies in meeting rooms. That earned Mariota some extra goodies including a parking space a little closer to the door at team headquarters.
Vrabel says their expectations for Mariota are the same for everyone else. Practice with urgency and play with great effort, and finish.
The Titans also upgraded Mariota's backup, trading with Miami for Ryan Tannehill.
"We're excited, especially about Marcus moving forward as our quarterback," Vrabel said, "Ryan to continue to push him, to compete, to help, and to make him better, and to make Ryan better. Our hope is that Ryan is a better quarterback than he was when he got here, and that Marcus is a better quarterback than he was when we finished the season."
NOTES: RT Jack Conklin did not practice Saturday after warming up, and Vrabel said he's expected back Sunday. Rookie Brown (left leg) did not practice but caught balls off a machine after the session. He left Friday's opening practice after slipping on a route in individual drills. RB Derrick Henry did not practice. ... The Titans agreed to terms with DB Jonathan Crawford before practice, bringing back someone signed as an undrafted free agent after the draft earlier this year.