Marcus Mariota has taken a long road back to a starting opportunity.
The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has spent the last two seasons on the Las Vegas Raiders’ bench. Once viewed as the Tennessee Titans’ franchise cornerstone, Mariota got benched for Ryan Tannehill during the 2019 season.
Mariota is now reunited with former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith in Atlanta. With Matt Ryan out of town, the Falcons will give the former Heisman Trophy winner a chance to run away with the job.
Per Maria Martin of 11Alive News, Mariota said he’s aiming to “play free” this season. When asked if his prior relationship with Smith makes the transition easier, Mariota confirmed that he’s entering his new opportunity with a different outlook.
“I think I really learned from that experience,” Mariota said. “I really learned from my couple of years of being a backup. When you have to sit down and watch, it’s a different perspective. With that being said, those experiences have allowed me to just come out here and use those as tools.”
Mariota added that Smith is also going through a learning experience in his second season as head coach. He thinks those growing pains will help both of them moving forward.
Expectations aren’t particularly high in Atlanta. Per Vegas Insider, the Falcons match the Houston Texans with the NFL’s lowest win total at 4.5.
That low bar could help Mariota obtain his goal of playing loose. Yet history could repeat itself with rookie Desmond Ridder waiting in the wings.