Mike Vrabel vows to get Marcus Mariota playing confidently

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- New Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel had his Sunday night family dinner interrupted by a call from quarterback Marcus Mariota. He had to put the fellowship on pause to talk to one of the newest important people in his life.

"You're going to take another backseat to the quarterback. I'm going to take this one," Vrabel recalled telling his wife Jen and sons, Tyler and Carter. "The vision is that we're going to do things that are going to help him. We're going to put guys around him that are going to help him. We're going to get him to play with confidence. We're going to get him to play energetic and bring the passion of football out that he's so capable of showing. There's not going to be a greater relationship that I need to foster and develop than the one with our starting quarterback."

Shortly after Titans general manager Jon Robinson and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk introduced Vrabel as the fifth head coach in Titans franchise history, Vrabel began to reveal some of the philosophy and development plans that made the Titans certain they found their guy after a quick search to replace Mike Mularkey.

Vrabel is a 14-year NFL linebacker and defensive-minded head coach, but his most important role for the Tennessee Titans will be maximizing Mariota. The third-year signal caller had his worst season as a pro in 2017 throwing a career-high 15 interceptions and career-low 13 passing touchdowns.

It was puzzling to see Mariota's regression given the fear he still gave defensive coordinators, including Vrabel with the Houston Texans, with his rare athleticism.

"We were scared to death. He pulled the football on Jadeveon Clowney and ran (34) yards," Vrabel said referring to the Titans' Week 4 loss to the Texans where Mariota rushed for two touchdowns, including a 34-yarder in which he juked out Clowney.

"Thank God he pulled his hamstring running (34) yards or that game wouldn't have been what it was that day in Houston. He's a special talent. He's a special kid. I can't wait to work with him and help him through taking that next step in his career. You got a QB pulling it on JD, you've got to have some cojones because JD usually swallows these guys up."

Vrabel alluded we would see more of his athleticism on display in the Titans new offense. He referenced what Bill O'Brien did with Deshaun Watson in Houston as another guide of how Mariota would be used.

The 2017 Titans were a power-running team that used a lot of sets with multiple tight ends and extra offensive lineman to impose its will on teams. Vrabel spoke of the 2018 Titans as having a little more scheme flexibility.

"We're going to run the football. We're going to run it from the quarterback being under center. We're going to run it from the QB being in gun. We're going to give Marcus some easy access throws, RPOs [run-pass options] or run relief," Vrabel said. "We're not going to run it into eight or nine guys. We're not going to be silly. I believe in screens. I believe in play-action, things he does well."

Mariota was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks off play-action, yet he ranked just 16th in play-action usage.

Mariota completed 68.6 percent of his throws off play-action (102 snaps) for an 11.11 yards per attempt average. He had nine total touchdowns and just four interceptions off play-action. Without play-action (793 snaps), Mariota completed 60.1 percent of his throws for a 5.98 yards per attempt average. He had nine total touchdowns and 11 interceptions in those situations.

"He may or may not play every single game. There's ways to win games in this league without a franchise QB," Vrabel said. "We've got one. We're going to develop him."

Vrabel wouldn't reveal his assistant coach plans, but Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Ryan Day is considering taking the offensive coordinator job.

It would be Day's first NFL coordinator job. He has two years of NFL experience as Chip Kelly's QB coach in Philadelphia and San Francisco. He's also had success with Boston College and Ohio State. He would bring a lot of spread, college-like scheme to Tennessee for Mariota, but Vrabel also stressed scheme flexibility.

"Amy is going to trust me to hire the right guy for Marcus," Vrabel said. "Jon is going to trust me to hire the right guy for Marcus or I wouldn't have been hired."