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Titans stay optimistic with Mariota at helm

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) talks on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Questions about whether Marcus Mariota could take a snap under center or run a huddle seem almost silly now.

So too the idea that the Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback would be a runner needing time to learn how to throw in the NFL.

“Everybody expects him to run,” Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright said of Mariota. “He only runs when he has to, and I don’t think he really has to.

“Every time he scrambles, his eyes are downfield, and he’s looking for somebody to throw to, and I think that’s helping him a lot. When the time comes for him to run, that’s when I think he will run.”

Three games in, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon is off to a strong start in the NFL with Tennessee.

Yes, the Titans are 1-2 at their bye — the same start as a year ago, when they finished 2-14 and earned the right to draft Mariota at No. 2 overall.

Yet Mariota already has put up impressive numbers while writing himself into some record books and earning honors as the NFL’s offensive rookie of the month for September. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who had Andrew Luck as a rookie back in 2012, has been impressed by Mariota’s poise and command.

“The guy looks like he’s been in the league three or four years,” Pagano said.

Mariota opened with a bang, tying the NFL mark for most TD passes in a player’s first three games with eight.

Only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer have more touchdown passes than Mariota, who also ranks seventh with a passer rating of 109.2 and eighth with 833 yards passing.

“I don’t know what the full season will look like, but as long as he keeps getting better like he’s doing I think he’ll have a really good rookie season,” Wright said.

The Titans and coach Ken Whisenhunt went all in after selecting Mariota, turning the offense over to the rookie instantly after tweaking the offense before the draft.

A perfectionist, Mariota has impressed coaches and teammates alike with how hard he works. After looking to the sideline for play calls at Oregon, the rookie rehearsed the night before offseason practices so he could rattle off the call smoothly on the field. He also fixed a hitch in handing off the ball.

His NFL debut was one for the ages in a duel with Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, taken just before Mariota with the No. 1 overall pick.

Mariota became the first rookie to throw four TD passes in his first half as the Titans breezed to a 42-14 victory. Mariota’s cleats from that game are on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“If you just woke up from a couple years of sleep, didn’t know anything and watched the game with the sound off, you wouldn’t know that he was a rookie,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said of Mariota’s debut performance.

A challenge for rookie quarterbacks coming into the NFL can be dealing with the long season while avoiding the roller coaster of emotions.

“You’ve got to find a way to keep sort of a steady-Eddie approach each week,” said Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

That describes Mariota’s approach to a T.

Right guard Chance Warmack said he has been impressed most by how Mariota never gets too excited at a big play or too upset by a mistake.

Teammates see a bright future for Tennessee after watching Mariota lead the Titans to 27 straight points against the Colts last week.

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