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No decision yet on whether Mariota will play Thursday

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NASHVILLE — To play or not to play. That seems to one of the questions facing the Tennessee Titans regarding Marcus Mariota and the preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said in his Sunday press conference and again after Monday’s practice that he wasn’t yet sure of whether or not to play the rookie in the fourth preseason game.

The positives, of course, to playing Mariota is that a rookie quarterback presumably needs all the work he can get heading into the regular season. Mariota has played somewhat sparingly, a total of 68 snaps, through three preseason games. The Titans also didn’t really have the luxury of the so-called “dress rehearsal” game in the third exhibition, because they played on a Friday night against Kansas City with only two days of practice to prepare on the short week.

Therefore, some of what normally was intended for the starters was tossed aside, including playing into the third quarter for Mariota and getting to come out after halftime adjustments were made.

The negative, of course, is that there is always the risk of injury, which is why a good many of the players who know they have a roster spot locked up are generally spectators in the fourth preseason game, while players who are on the bubble for a spot on the team log the lion’s share of the playing time in order to have a final chance at making a lasting impression.

For his part, Mariota says he wants to play.

“The coaches will make that decision, but I’m here to play, and if they want me to, I will go out there and play to the best of my ability,” Mariota said. “I’m a competitor, and if they give me the opportunity to play, then I’ll go out there and make the most of it.”

Whisenhunt was still on the fence on Monday.

“I’m not trying to dodge the question, it’s just I don’t know at this point. I don’t know that it does or doesn’t make a difference at this point,” Whisenhunt said. “I think some of it may be a feel for where we are as a team, and I think some of it may be, wake up Thursday morning and say, he’s not going to play today. I don’t know; some of it’s going to be dependent on where we are as a team and how the week’s gone. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, because ultimately it makes him prepare to play, and that’s the most important thing, is to be prepared to play.”

–Time is running out for the Titans regarding backup linebacker Zaviar Gooden, who has been out with a hamstring injury. Gooden, who appeared ticketed for a backup spot at inside linebacker again, now might have to go to injured reserve if he can’t show the Titans that he is close to returning.

“We’ll see where we are when we get to that point. We’re about a week away from when we have to make those final cuts. We’ll see how close he is at that point,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s getting closer. I’m sure you can see that by his workouts. But that’s a decision that’ll come down next week.”

Gooden, who has not played since the preseason opener because of the injury, says he is working hard to return and is trying to stay positive.

“It’s just part of life. You’ve just got to make the best out of your situation,” he said. “I always take the positive aspect of things.”

–The offensive line – barring injury – now appears to be set for the time being. The Titans went for the second straight game with a lineup of Taylor Lewan and Jeremiah Poutasi at tackles, Byron Bell and Chance Warmack at guards and Brian Schwenke at center. Whisenhunt indicated on Monday that that lineup would remain intact for the season opener against the Bucs. That means that Andy Levitre, the former starter at left guard, will either become an expensive backup at $6.5 million in base salary, or he could be a candidate for release.


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