The Atlanta Falcons have somewhat become the Tennessee Titans of the NFC South. Not only is former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith entering his second season as head coach in the ATL, but he brought in six former players he coached during his time in the Music City.
The main one is quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was benched for Ryan Tannehill in 2019 and spent the past two seasons as Derek Carr’s backup with the Las Vegas Raiders. The former No. 2 overall pick said he learned a lot serving as a backup, and that his familiarity with Smith has been beneficial in this transition to a new franchise.
“We’ve been through a lot, with different situations and scenarios,” Mariota said, via the Falcons’ official website. “From that perspective, being able to bring those things out here on the field, we both understand that at the end of the day, we just want to play our best football.
“Art is doing a good job of allowing me to feel like I can go out there and play free. I’m excited for this chance to grow with these guys. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
The phrase “play free” is something you want to hear if you’re a Falcons fan. Mariota has the potential to be a dynamic dual-threat weapon. In his second NFL season back in 2016, he threw for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while adding 349 rushing yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. Consistency issues and injury issues led to the Titans deciding to move on, but getting back to playing instinctively could bring forth play reminiscent of his Heisman Trophy campaign with Oregon back in 2014.
“From a standpoint of playing free — we talk about it constantly in the quarterback room — sometimes you can get really robotic. Especially me,” Mariota said. “You can get, ‘here’s your progression: 1, 2, 3, 4,’ but the game doesn’t always work that way. Working with (offensive coordinator Dave Ragone) and (quarterbacks coach Charles) London, being able come to the 7-on-7s and jog-throughs and just play free, play what you see and trust your eyes.”
Smith has said that Mariota will begin the Falcons’ offseason as the starter, and that he’s expecting the “best version of him” in Atlanta. The Falcons did select the second quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft with Desmond Ridder, but Mariota is going to get the first crack to replace Matt Ryan.