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Titans training camp spotlight: Episode 1, Marcus Mariota's development

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

I decided to pen this series to illuminate the multiple focuses that will be ongoing during the Titans 2016 training camp at St. Thomas Sports Park. We will touch on each area of the roster as the team progresses through camp and the final squad becomes more clarified.

The first and arguably most important factor for Tennessee’s success going forward is tied to the quarterback position. As we know, the role greatly affects the viability of a team’s long-term performance. To me, Mariota showed a ton of promise in his rookie season, showing the poise, leadership, and raw physical tools that we saw during his stellar career at Oregon. The question now becomes, can he take the next big step?

Titans Brass has done their best to surround him with talent this offseason, especially in giving the team an NFL quality rushing attack. The latter will likely pay massive dividends in ensuring Mariota has the opportunity to succeed.

Additionally, the team has developing but unproven offensive talent in the likes of Dorial Green-Beckham, who showed some awesome flashes as a rookie in 2015. While Delanie Walker is a reliable weapon, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter have not provided a consistent spark. Accordingly, the team also added Ri’Shard Matthews, who should provide additional support in sustaining drives, and also drafted Tajae Sharp, who wowed the team in minicamp with his reliable hands and crisp route running.

But what of Mariota on an individual level? It’s obvious that the team around him will affect his success or failure in 2016. But what should we be looking for in training camp to suggest that he is elevating his game?

It would be encouraging to see him take better care of the football. While that normally refers to QB’s throwing interceptions, Mariota’s issues are fumble-related. As he settles down this year (hopefully with some help from his O-line) we will likely see these occurrences decline. Additionally, his chemistry with his receivers in hitting the deep ball should also be a focus. If the Titans can consistently stretch the field vertically with fast, big-bodied wideouts like Green-Beckham, the offense will run much more efficiently, as it will elongate zones and allow Mariota to ply his trade in the short and intermediate zones with less traffic. So while the deep ball tends to be overrated in evaluating QB’s, I’ll be looking for him to improve in this area during camp.

Mariota’s accuracy, poise, and quick release time are ideal, and rare to find in quarterbacks his age. A well-placed ball can often mean the difference between a simple completion and a big play, so the aforementioned chemistry with his pass catchers is crucial. He has been working with the skill players this offseason to build that rapport, and hopefully the results show in camp.

Finally, simply getting additional exposure will aid Mariota in 2016. As with all QB’s going from year one to year two, the sheer volume of information thrown at them early becomes easier to process as they settle down, and actually experience it firsthand. Marcus has a season’s worth of NFL defenses under his belt, and taking the next step in his development would mean a greater understanding of those defenses, of the proper protection calls and audibles, etc. We’ll know how far he has come in this aspect when we see him in camp and the preseason; in the form of less mental mistakes (& turnovers).

It’s obvious that Mariota is the driving force behind this squads’ destiny in 2016 and beyond. It will certainly be interesting in camp to see just how well he’s coming along.