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Mariota not biggest concern for Titans

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With one preseason game in the books, the Tennessee Titans at least now know where to start in the development of Marcus Mariota.

However, if the coaching and front office staffs were paying close attention, they have bigger issues than the rookie quarterback.

After a rough start, with an interception and a fumble returned for a touchdown, Mariota settled down enough to finish the night 7 of 8 for 94 yards and leading a touchdown drive.

“I just kind of shrugged it off and figured we needed a good drive and we finished with a decent one,” Mariota said. “I think battling through some adversity is gonna make us a better team. For us as an offense to battle back, it’s only gonna make us better.”

Mariota gave enough of a positive impression to leave the Titans feeling that they probably have a future franchise quarterback on their hands and that he is going in the right direction very early in his NFL career.

Where the Titans have bigger issues is on the offensive line, where the first unit allowed a sack of Mariota and did not block particularly well in the running game either. The line also deserved its share of the blame for Mariota’s fumble, as head coach Ken Whisenhunt said a Falcons defender who tipped the ball had free access to the quarterback.

“We’re going to continue to work it,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s hard to say that you made progress because we didn’t play that many plays. But I like the fact that (left tackle) Taylor (Lewan) made that statement (about the line not playing well), and there’s got to be a mentality with that group that we’ve got to be tougher, we’ve got to run the ball, and we’ve got to be able to protect.”

The Titans’ second-team line fared much better, though the performance is skewed because it played against the Falcons’ backups. But if the Titans’ offensive line continues to flounder, perhaps the team will consider creating competition at places like center and left guard.

Lewan is locked in at left tackle and Chance Warmack is solid at right guard, but the other three spots need to be settled soon.

The other issue is on defense, where the first-team unit allowed a touchdown drive right out of the gate, something they did in all four preseason games a year ago.

“I’m disappointed more about, not so much the opening drive, as how we played it,” Whisenhunt said. “Our eye discipline wasn’t very good. We were short on some of our feels with our defensive linemen.

“We didn’t get across the offensive linemen to fill the right gaps. That bothered me a little bit, and I think we lost a couple of guys in man coverage, some of their boots, or their nakeds as you’d call it. That disappoints me more than anything because we worked so hard on that.”

Granted, it was a vanilla defense with very little scheming, but the Titans were unable to generate any pass rush to speak of and were burned by open receivers, as Atlanta’s Julio Jones caught four passes on the first drive.

–Ryan Succop missed a point-after try from 33 yards on his second attempt of the preseason. After their next touchdown drive, the Titans elected to go for two and were successful in regaining the lost point as Antonio Andrews scored on a conversion run.

–The Titans liked what they saw from rookie third-round tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, who played with the second unit against the Falcons and had some first-team reps in practice in competition with Byron Bell for the job.

“He played a lot like a young guy,” Whisenhunt said. “He did some good things. He’s talented. A couple of times he got pushed back a little bit just because of his sets.

“We’ve got another three weeks of games where he can continue to progress. I guess in a nutshell on him, he’s got a tremendous amount of talent. I think he’s getting better and hopefully that trend will continue. We’ll see how good it gets.”

–Another impressive rookie was fifth-round pick David Cobb, who had 53 yards on 11 carries in his preseason debut. Whisenhunt promises that Cobb will get some first-team reps later in the preseason.

“Based on what you saw last night, I certainly think he deserves that,” Whisenhunt said. “The young man had to get in shape first. That’s been a process just because of the quad injury. But he did a really nice job last night and we’ll move him up in the rotation as the weeks progress.”

NOTES: Among those injured against the Falcons were linebacker J.R. Tavai(hamstring), Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil (hamstring) and (ILB) Zaviar Gooden. … Quarterback Zach Mettenberger did well, completing 8 of 11 passes for 129 yards with a 30-yard TD pass to WR Rico Richardson. He also had a pass intercepted as he underthrew Justin Hunter on a deep pass. … RB Bishop Sankey struggled to find running room going behind the first-team offensive line. Sankey, a second-round pick a year ago, managed just 15 yards rushing on eight carries. … CB Jason McCourty was held out of the preseason opener because of a groin injury. … CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson is scheduled to have the cast taken off his left ankle.


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