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Mariota might sit out preseason finale

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota ran the ball against St. Louis on Sunday.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Marcus Mariota is ready to execute whatever the Tennessee Titans’ game plan is in their preseason finale Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

Whether that means the rookie quarterback is just an engaged spectator, or he’s the starter.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday he might not make a decision on Mariota until he wakes up on game day.

“I think he’ll be prepared to play if we want him to play, and if we don’t play him, we don’t play him,” Whisenhunt said. “There’s just a lot going on as far as what we’re trying to get done in preparation for this week and even next week, so we’ll see how the week goes.”

Mariota has had a good preseason at least statistically.

The No. 2 pick overall out of Oregon and the Heisman Trophy winner has completed 70.4 percent of his passes and is 19-for-27 for 252 yards with only one interception playing 68 snaps over three exhibitions for the Titans (1-2). He has yet to throw his first touchdown with no turnovers since the opener.

That compares nicely to Jameis Winston, the quarterback taken ahead of him by Tampa Bay. Winston is 23-for-47 for 311 yards, a 48.9 percent completion rate. Winston has yet to toss a TD pass and has been intercepted twice.

Not playing Mariota even one series Thursday night would be a step toward ensuring the rookie is healthy for the opener Sept. 13 when the Titans visit Winston and the Bucs. Whisenhunt said he couldn’t recall having a player seriously injured in the fourth preseason game, but he wants Mariota preparing this week as if he’s playing regardless of the final decision.

“Now there may be something you want to see or you want to look at,” Whisenhunt said. “You always balance the factor of potential injury, but that could happen on the practice field, that could happen stepping off a curb.”

Mariota is leaving the decision on whether he starts and how much he plays to the coaches and is just busy preparing for Minnesota (4-0) — not his regular-season debut in Tampa Bay.

Even with Mariota’s passing accuracy, the Titans still have kinks to work through offensively. They have started slowly in each of the three exhibitions, even though the rookie has not turned the ball over since the opening loss at Atlanta.

The Titans trailed 17-0 before Mariota drove them to a touchdown in Atlanta, and they punted on two of Mariota’s three series in a win over St. Louis on Aug. 23. Mariota nearly had his first TD pass in that game except Dexter McCluster dropped a pass in the end zone, forcing Tennessee to kick a field goal.

They punted on their first two drives in Kansas City before Mariota drove them to a field goal and a touchdown in a 34-10 loss. Mariota didn’t take the field in the second half. But tight end Delanie Walker was impressed at how the rookie took control in that game, ordering everyone into the huddle at one point, and how Mariota bounced back after being sacked.

The rookie knows he still has a lot to improve upon.

“This is just the beginning, and as we go forward, I’ll do my best,” Mariota said.

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