Vrabel says Titans looking for spark with switch to Tannehill, won’t rule out return to Mariota
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans want to jump-start an offense that has just one touchdown over the past 10 quarters, so they’re turning to veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill and benching Marcus Mariota.
At least for Sunday.
“We’re trying to get a little spark, trying to evaluate what we’re doing and how we’re functioning as an offense,” coach Mike Vrabel said Wednesday.
Tannehill, the eight-year veteran with 88 career starts for Miami, will make his first Tennessee start against the Chargers (2-4).
“I just felt like now was the time,” Vrabel said.
Not that Mariota, the No. 2 pick overall in 2015 and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner with Oregon, is benched for the final 10 games left on his $20.9 million contract.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” Vrabel said of the Saint Louis School graduate starting again this season. “This is a decision that we made for this week. We’re going to need Marcus in some form or fashion throughout the season, but I think the most important thing is this week.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said his team will be preparing for both quarterbacks. He coached against Tannehill when he was in the AFC East and noted that Tannehill played against the Chargers a couple years ago too.
“He’s a good player,” Lynch said of Tannehill. “He can move around, create, throw the ball.”
Vrabel didn’t make the move to bench Mariota in a vacuum.
The second-year head coach said controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, general manager Jon Robinson and other coaches were part of the decision.
The Titans (2-4) have scored just 98 points through six games — and the defense, the NFL’s No. 5 scoring unit, contributed an interception return for a touchdown to that total.
Now Tannehill is getting his shot after being acquired from Miami in March via trade, a move originally made to upgrade the backup QB position. The eight-year veteran has a career quarterback rating of 87 and has 20,578 yards passing with 123 touchdowns and 76 interceptions. The eighth overall pick out of Texas A&M in 2012, Tannehill is being paid $1.75 million under a one-year deal.
“It’s been a little while since I was a starter right? Almost half a year?” Tannehill said. “But it’s nothing new for me to go out and play football. It’s what I love to do. I love competing … and being on the field. So nothing new, just different colors.”
Tannehill was 13 of 16 for 144 yards with one interception on 30 snaps coming off the bench in the 16-0 loss in Denver. He also was sacked four times and now has been sacked 252 times in his career.
The Titans have allowed an NFL-worst 29 sacks despite an offensive line they have heavily invested in.
Taylor Lewan became the league’s highest-paid left tackle last year, left guard Rodger Saffold was the fourth-highest paid lineman signed in March, center Ben Jones got an extension Aug. 30 and the team used draft picks on rookie right guard Nate Davis (third-round pick) and right tackle Jack Conklin (No. 8 pick overall in 2016).
“This isn’t a fail by Marcus,” Saffold said. “This is a fail by this offense, and we just have to understand that.”
Vrabel benched Mariota in the third quarter after 40 snaps, the first time he had been pulled because of poor play and not injury. Mariota was 7 of 18 for 63 yards and two interceptions. Mariota said he was disappointed at not taking advantage of his opportunity.
“I can learn and grow from this situation,” Mariota said. “This isn’t going to bring me down. This isn’t going to end my career. This is an opportunity for me to grow, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
In his career, Tannehill is 42-46 as a starter with one winning season at 10-6 with Miami in 2016 while never playing in a postseason game. Mariota is 29-32 as a starter, though he is 1-1 in the playoffs.