NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota has progressed through his rehabilitation from only taking snaps from his center, to dropping back and then moving on to handing the ball off.
Now he is throwing passes in 7-on-7 drills as the Titans started the next phase of their offseason program Tuesday. But the Titans are taking great care to protect their franchise quarterback, who broke his right leg five months ago.
“I know he’d like to do more, he looks like he can do more,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of Mariota. “Again, it’s May still. We got time.”
When Mariota broke his leg on Dec. 24 in a loss at Jacksonville , the Titans estimated the quarterback’s recovery taking up to five months. But team officials have made it very clear since February that their goal is making sure Mariota is completely ready Sept. 10 when the Titans open the season hosting Oakland and Derek Carr, who also broke his right leg hours after Mariota’s injury.
Mularkey said he didn’t know two months ago if Mariota would be able to throw in a 7-on-7 drill in these sessions. But the coach said Mariota is ready for what the Titans are giving him. Mariota threw all of the 7-on-7 drills, ensuring he threw passes to Tennessee’s new wide receivers like top draft pick Corey Davis and third-round selection Taywan Taylor.
“The more he can do the better,” Mularkey said. “That’s why we’re giving him more reps, even in 7-on-7, is because of the timing in the passing game.”
Mariota, the No. 2 pick overall in 2015 and the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, was just happy to be on the field with his teammates and practicing football after months of rehabilitation. His recovery from surgery included not being able to put weight on his right leg until late February. He still has yet to run full speed, though Mariota said he’s getting close.
“I was like a little kid again to be able to go out there and be able to play,” Mariota said. “It’s crazy. You kind of take some of those things for granted. For me, I was really just thankful to be out there.”
Whether or not the Titans are able to improve on their 9-7 record last season and end an eight-year playoff drought depends on Mariota’s health and complete recovery.
The quarterback has put up impressive numbers through his first two seasons and has yet to be intercepted inside an opponent’s 20-yard line. Inside the red zone, he has a 114.6 passer rating with 33 touchdowns in that span. For 2016, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards with 26 TDs and nine interceptions with a 95.6 passer rating.
Mariota already has 16 games with at least 2 TD passes, which ties him with Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning for third all-time through a quarterback’s first two NFL seasons. He trails only Dan Marino (22) and Carr (17).
It’s why Mularkey emphatically told the Titans to stay away from Mariota and all the quarterbacks on the field. When Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo closed in on Mariota, the veteran exaggerated a bit as he avoided contact with the quarterback.
“It was way over-exaggerated,” Mariota said. “But it’s fun to be out there with the guys, and I enjoyed it.”