It’s usually not noteworthy when a quarterback completes two of three passes for 15 yards and runs for six yards in the first preseason game.
But it was significant for the Tennessee Titans and the AFC South when Marcus Mariota made his preseason debut against the New York Jets last week.
That’s because Mariota showed no ill effects of the broken leg he suffered at the end of last year and appeared to be able to run the same way before he was injured. And being able to run is a huge part of Mariota’s game.
On the first play, he rolled right on a run fake and dodged defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who got in his face.
“Instincts just kind of took over,’’ Mariota said after the game. “You just kind of play the game you’ve always been playing.’’
If Mariota can play the game he’s always been playing this year, the Titans will be the only team in the AFC South without any concern about its quarterback going into the season.
By contrast, Andrew Luck still isn’t healthy in Indianapolis. Also, rookie Deshaun Watson is getting some snaps with the first team in Houston even though Tom Savage is supposed to be the Houston Texans’ starter, so Savage may be fighting for the job. And in Jacksonville, Blake Bortes has been inconsistent after taking a step backward last year, although he still seems set to start the season.
In Houston, Savage is downplaying the fact that Watson is getting some first-team snaps.
“I think (with) pretty much every team, the backup’s is going to get reps with the ones,’’ he said. “I’m just going to worry about what I can control.’’
Although Savage still seems likely to start the season, he’s now obviously going to be on a short leash. Watson was drafted to be the Texans’ quarterback of the future, and the future could come sooner rather than later if Savage struggles.
Either way, the Texans will go into the season with an unsettled quarterback situation.
In Indianapolis, the Colts still don’t know if Luck will be ready to start the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Owner Jimmy Irsay said Luck could be ready for the opener – or not.
Well, that clears that up.
The team didn’t bring in a veteran as a safety net if Luck wasn’t ready. Irsay said the team considered bringing in a “mid-30s, mid-to-late 30s guy,’’ but he wanted more than the Colts were ready to offer. He didn’t identify the quarterback.
That leaves Scott Tolzien, Phillip Walker and Stephen Morris as their three quarterback options.
The Colts have to worry about those options if Luck isn’t ready.
In Jacksonville, new boss Tom Coughlin bet the season on Bortles. Even though Bortles’ poor showing in his third season last year raised questions about whether he will be the long-term quarterback, Coughlin didn’t bring in a veteran. Instead, veteran Chad Henne and young Brandon Allen are the only other options.
And Bortles, who’s been up and down in training camp, has done nothing to end all the questions about whether he is destined to be a bust. Although he had his moments, Bortles also had a five-interception meltdown in one practice.
And last Sunday, he was yanked in practice after throwing two interceptions. Coach Doug Marrone first said after practice that Bortles was on a pitch count. The next day, he said “pitch count” was the wrong phrase. He said Bortles had a tired arm, and Marrone wanted him to be ready for the two practices against Tampa Bay.
So it remains unclear if Bortles was benched because he was struggling. But if Marrone wanted to rest Bortles’ arm, it was unusual to do it in the middle of a practice. And in the final public practice Tuesday, wide receiver Allen Robinson muttered in colorful language that he should throw the ball in bounds after Bortles overthrew him out of bounds.
The Jaguars will go as far as Bortles can take them this year. The Jaguars have to worry about how far that actually is.
The bottom line is that while the Titans may not have the best team in the division, they currently have the best healthy quarterback. In a quarterback-driven league, that makes Tennessee the big favorite in the AFC South.