Marcus Mariota’s recovery will be more Mentally taxing than Physically
December 24, 2016 – The Tennessee Titans trailed the Jacksonville Jaguars by 15 points with 53 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. The Titans were just inside the 50 yard line in Jaguars territory.
With playoff implications at stake, many Titans fans assumed Mariota would get the offense rolling leading into the 4th quarter. 5 seconds later, the unthinkable would take place.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie DT Sheldon Day would record his one and only sack of the season. Ramifications of the 4th round pick from Notre Dame’s single sack would be dire.
Day – who played just 13 defensive snaps – broke his streak without a sack. Day also broke Mariota’s leg and Tennessee fan’s hearts. He reminded superstitious people why the number 13 is cursed. The Titans would lose the game as their hearts were yanked from their chest.
Sheldon Day would finish the season with a stat line consisting of 8 total tackles and 1 sack. It’s amazing how heavy that meager stat line really is – especially to fans of Nashville’s NFL team.
A lot of things were broken on Christmas morning in 2016. Some of which were mentioned above. With Houston’s win over the Bengals in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter, the Titans’ season officially ended and the Texans took the title of the AFC South.
But Titans fans already knew, without Mariota, the season – and a playoff run – was over Christmas eve.
The focus shifted to how Mariota would recover from the injury and would he ever be the same again. His case is different than Tom Brady’s broken leg in 2008. Unlike Mariota, Brady does not rely on his legs to make plays and score points, outside of a little tap dancing he does within the pocket.
Brady has never had an 89-yard touchdown run. Brady does not have designed runs or QB options. Brady is not in an offense that is deemed “exotic”.
Mariota began the process of recovery after surgery he underwent the following week. Knowing Mariota’s mentality – at least what can be absorbed from interviews and field play – there was no doubt he would do anything and everything to recover on time or ahead of schedule if possible.
Mariota would have a plate inserted to stabilize the area. The remaining months would include plenty of rehabilitation. How would having a plate affect Mariota’s game.
A to Z Sports Nashville discussed this question yesterday on their weekday podcast. If you are a Titans fan and haven’t followed the show, you’re missing out.
The question of how Mariota would be used offensively had mixed reviews. Mainly, it was argued if he should be used the same way as he was last year. Should the Titans still employ designed QB runs? Should the Titans use option-type plays where Mariota puts himself outside the pocket to make plays with his legs?
It was also discussed that – with all the offensive weaponry that was added to the receiving core during the offseason – maybe the Titans should alter their offense to reduce the amount of times Mariota is put in position to use his legs to make a play.
Should the Titans test the waters on their passing game more often than last season? That should be an obvious yes, but it would be a natural yes. It is not a question of if the Titans will pass more than last season. The draft and offseason signing suggests they must.
Tennessee has Thunder in the back field with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry – and potential Lightning in a bottle in Khalfani Mohammad. The Titans could seemingly rely on this trio to take most of the carries to prevent Mariota from injury as he will work through the unnaturalness of his recovering lower leg.
Time Heals, Confidence Builds
Having had a plate inserted in my lower leg, I can speak on just how unnatural it feels. I went through the physical therapy, the rehab process, the whole nine yards. Once the rehab process was over, my leg initially felt weaker. Over the course of time, I regained strength. My movement improved, but there was still an instability that I couldn’t put my finger on.
The unbalance, uncertainty, and comfortability would come unexpectedly. I couldn’t anticipate when my balance would be put to the test. I couldn’t predict which planting step would test the rigid nature. Certain positions would cause me to feel the pain from the titanium plate in my lower right leg.
I also learned how the weather would influence the amount of pain I’d experience. It felt like having a supernatural sixth sense for weather predictability as I could usually tell if a storm was coming or the climate was changing. Next to campfires, the heat would radiate to my right leg to the point I’d have to walk away and keep a distance from the flames because the pain was too much to handle.
Use the Weapons
Well, I’m not an NFL player (obviously). But I can just speak on what Mariota can expect to go through. In fact, I’m sure he’s already had his share of moments in camp when he felt unnatural. He just won’t discuss it. I know I didn’t. Mariota will be have access to a lot more resources than I was privy to during my recovery.
He will, unfortunately, also be exposed to 280+ pound mammoths looking to put in on his back. Confidence in his leg will be key to his performance.
Confidence. Confidence. Confidence. I can’t type this word out enough to reinforce how critical his mental make-up will be during this phase of the recovery. There will be moments during the season where he’ll have to make a decisive decision to rely on his leg and make a play. If his belief in his leg is strong enough, Mariota will be in a good place.
He just can’t be overconfident. Been there, done that. Overconfidence in a movement can really make one question the durability.
So again the question is asked, Should the Titans offense be tailored to prevent Mariota from the reinjury of his right leg? Without question. Let him win with his arm. Let his passing game develop as his leg continues to adapt to the speed and physically demanding nature of the NFL. Let him use the weapons at his disposal. Let Murray and Henry carry the load.
If Mariota runs, it shouldn’t be by design outside of the QB sneak up the gut. If Mariota chooses to run in situations the play breaks down, that will show his level of confidence.
Some will say that by eliminating Mariota as a run threat will reduce his threat as the top redzone QB.
I say, I’m ok with that. I’d rather err on the side of caution that watch him be carted off the field again. I’m sure that with Corey Davis and Eric Decker at his disposal, he’ll find a way to get the ball in the endzone.
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Stats referenced at espn.com. I do not claim credit for the photo featured above.
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