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What to expect from Titans QB Marcus Mariota in Year 3

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) passes against the Denver Broncos in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
AP Photo/Mark Zaleski

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – He set a high bar as a rookie, but Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota nevertheless made significant strides during his sophomore season in 2016.

One of the clearest examples was Mariota’s touchdown-to-interception ratio. He posted 26 touchdown passes to nine interceptions last year, compared to 19 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions during his rookie season.

The questions now: What expectations should we have of the former second pick in the draft as he prepares for his third year? Is it realistic for Mariota to take another jump or should Titan fans be cautious with their optimism?

It’s worth noting, first of all, that Mariota is expected to be fully healthy by the start of training camp, following the surgery he underwent last year on his broken fibula. Mariota is already ahead of his recovery schedule, evident by the fact he was able to gain limited action during the Titans’ OTAs and minicamp.

Also worth consideration:

  • Mariota enters his second season under offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie and quarterback coach Jason Michael, which might smooth out some of the early-season rough spots he encountered in 2016. For example, Mariota threw just four touchdown passes and suffered four picks in his four games last season, but threw 22 touchdown passes versus only five interceptions over his remaining 11 contests.

“We started slow last year,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey told media. “I think a lot of that was everybody getting to know each other, getting to know the scheme, getting to know the communication with each other… We played against a lot of good defenses last year, a lot of complicated defenses. All that is going to help.”

  • The Titans have more talented pass-catching options going into this season than last, even if some of the most impressive targets are youngsters. Rookies Corey Davis (first-round pick) and Taywan Taylor (third-rounder) combined for 36 touchdowns in college last year, so they should prove quality additions to an offense that already features Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker and emerging wide receiver Rishard Matthews.

What about recent precedent regarding quarterbacks in their third seasons as starters?

The good news is that a handful of those quarterbacks – such as Oakland’s Derek Carr, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Carolina’s Cam Newton – all made some degree of statistical progress in their third seasons.

The Titans would love Mariota to follow a path similar to Luck, who made gigantic jumps in Year 3. He threw for 40 touchdowns (his previous best had been 23) and posted a quarterback rating of 96.5 (previous best: 87.0). Similarly, Carr produced career-bests in touchdown-interception ratio (28-6), quarterback rating (96.7) and yards per game (263) in his third year.

For some quarterbacks, the third year was not the charm.

For Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder and the Titans’ Jake Locker, the third year represented the beginning of the end as effective starters. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles also stumbled from Year 2 to Year 3, dipping noticeably in categories like touchdown-to-interception ratio, quarterback rating and passing yardage last season.

The belief here is that Mariota will fall much closer on the spectrum to the former group – those who made a jump in their third year – than the latter group.

We’ll get our first glimpse on Sept. 10, when Mariota goes head to head with Carr.

— Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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