Marcus Mariota steps in spotlight ahead of make-or-break season

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Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was a man of the people Tuesday as he made caravan stops at Maplewood High School and in Spring Hill.

A capacity crowd was on hand at Port Royal Park to welcome Mariota to Spring Hill. He was in the spotlight Tuesday — and he better get used to it, because that’s where he will be this season.

He’s playing under the fifth-year option of his contract, and many view it as a big season for him to show growth and the ability to stay healthy.

The team has clearly made steps to help the offense and Mariota. General Manager Jon Robinson brought in Rodger Saffold to bolster the offensive line and receivers Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay and AJ Brown from Ole Miss to bolster an undermanned receiving corps.

“Hopefully he’s ready to work,” Mariota said about second-round Draft pick A.J. Brown. The Titans took the Rebels all-time leading receiver 51st overall.

Adapting to the NFL as a wide receiver can be difficult, and Mariota’s had to break in Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe, so he knows the challenges ahead, saying he plans to “keep it simple…[and] allow them to go play.”

Humphries could be an ace up Mariota’s sleeve. The Titans gave him $9-million a year — not just to catch passes, but lead that wide receiver room.

“I think just having conversations with him, being around him now, you understand just how savvy and smart he is as a football player,” Mariota said. “I think that presence for that young group of receivers will benefit all of those guys, but I think he’s done a great job of kind of coming in and learn the offense as much as he can so he can lead those guys and do his best as well.”

Last year, after Rishard Matthews quit the team, it was a group that got very young, very fast, and Mariota paid the price at times.

“I think this entire team needs to take another step forward, including that room and I think they have the opportunity to do that,” Mariota said.

Their improvement does not just fall on themselves and Mariota but on first-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. He has been on the Titans staff every year of Mariota’s career. He is uniquely qualified to know what Mariota likes and does not like and does well and does not do so well.

Mariota says that familiarity has already had a positive impact, “To have that relationship has made things relatively smooth. I think it’s great for everybody, again it’s still early, we’re still all learning together.”

Now is the time to learn, but the time to produce is not far away.

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