Here's to a slow start for Marcus
When the Tennessee Titans drafted Marcus Mariota Thursday night, fans of the University of Oregon football program could finally take a big, deep breath with finally knowing where its most famous, recent, player was headed.
Now, he just has to wind up there, and represent the school for future Heisman-level quarterbacks. That’s something that’s been a tough sell at Oregon over the past two decades.
And, fast starts may have accounted for that.
The Titans have already expressed expectations that Mariota will be their starter on opening day, when the team plays the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted Jameis Winston with the top pick, one ahead of Mariota. There’s a bevy of media experts who promoted getting Mariota into the starting line-up that fast, or even in his first season, was a career mistake for him and his team.
Mariota did a fabulous job moving directly into the starting line-up at Oregon as a freshman, but the pro ranks are entirely different in their style and the opponents, none of whom have to attend class or have a limit on their seasons. Mariota will face harden pro defensive players from his first snap, and even the most dedicated student of the game will need game experience to handle that. Four preseason games isn’t going to help that a ton.
Mariota handled the experience well Thursday.
“For me, I’m going to do my best to transiton to everything,” Mariota said in a conference call with Titans reporters Thursday.
“I’ll continue to be the player I’ve always been, and do whatever’s asked of me. Coach Whisenhunt’s going to have his offense and the complexities of his system, and I’m going to do my best to execute it.”
And No. 2, the only player from Oregon ever selected higher was quarterback George Shaw, the top overall pick in 1955.
Shaw was a classic Oregon pro - he started as a rookie with the Baltimore Colts, but got hurt his second year and finished his eight-year career primarily as a back-up with the Colts and New York Giants.
Other notable Oregon quarterbacks who just never took off were Akili Smith, drafted in the first round in 1998, and Joey Harrington, who was the third overall pick in 2002. Smith was selected third overall by Cincinnati in 1999, but only played in 22 games with the team, and finished his career with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders. Harrington was promoted extensively by the Ducks, and Nike as an Oregon senior, but lasted just six years in the NFL. He started 12 games as a rookie.
If the Titans have a long-term desire to keep Mariota on their roster, starting, or even playing early in his career with the team is a big mistake. Look at Tom Brady’s career. Drafted in the sixth round out of Michigan in 2000, he threw only three passes as a rookie, but has started almost every game since - outside of missing the 2008 season due to injury. Having a year to prep for the game is huge.
But, when you’re selected second, and not in the sixth round, you have expectations that don’t allow for time to grow into the job. People expect performance right away, whether you’re ready for it or not. Mariota was ready for it on Day 1 in Eugene. Oregon fans can only predict, and hope, he’ll produce the same in Memphis when the pro game gets going in Summer.