FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When Marcus Mariota reflects on the major difference between where he was as a player the last time he played for Arthur Smith and where he is now, the veteran quarterback said that major difference lies in his own communication.
Smith and Mariota's communication right now is better, in a sense, because it's more of a dialogue between the two than it is a one-sided conversation in the way Mariota remembers it being when the two were together in Tennessee.
"It's on me. I really feel like I never communicated when I was in Tennessee," Mariota said, "like things that I'm seeing, maybe what we can improve on. I always felt like I was just trying to please the coaches and I just tried to do whatever they wanted me to do."
That's not necessarily the case any longer.
Dave Ragone explained a part of that change in Mariota is because of the experiences he has garnered over the years. When Mariota was with the Titans, his first five years in the league saw coaching and coordinator turnover at a rate many don't experience ever in their careers. We're talking three different head coaches, and five different play-callers.
During that time of major change, Mariota recalled not feeling too comfortable or confident in speaking up. Ragone said that's pretty normal, in his experience.
"The quarterbacks who I have had who have been later in their careers in this league they tend to see it a certain way because they've been through a lot," Ragone said. "The quarterbacks who I have had when they were younger? They are less likely to say something because they can't always see around the corner to what's going to happen next."
Mariota agreed, even saying it's a change in him that has helped his relationship with Smith, who comments a lot about the collaboration he likes to have with those around him (on staff and on the field).
"I think when it comes down to it, it's just being able to be confident in what I'm trying to articulate to the coaches," Mariota said. "I think sometimes, especially when I was younger in my career, you're like 'I'm not sure if that's really the coverage I'm seeing or what my progression is,' but because I feel like I've been in the league now for quite some time, I've seen a lot of different things. I've experienced a lot of different things, so I kind of lean on those experiences to be able to communicate what I've seen and what maybe we can improve."
Mariota continued by saying getting to this point in feeling like he has a confident voice to use was a journey.
When asked when he felt like he gave himself the green light to be more vocal with coaches and in game planning, Mariota said it was actually something he took from Derek Carr, and his two years being his backup with the Raiders.
"I thought just as a guy watching him, he was always like, 'Hey, I'm not seeing this great,' or 'I'm not a big fan of this play. Let's find a different way to attack the defense.' ... being able to see him do that and have success and play a really high level for quarterback really kind of instilled in me you got to have confidence in what you're seeing and be able to communicate to (coaches and players)."
At the end of the day, Mariota continued, there's only one person "holding the rock and having to make plays." All eyes fall on you in those moments. It's the guy holding the football that has to be on his Ps and Qs in the heat of a game. No coach is making those decisions in-game for them.
Mariota is no stranger to this, because no one is ignoring the fact that his 57.7 completion percentage is one of the lowest for starting quarterbacks in the league. However, Ragone and Smith - as well as Mariota himself - are not too worried about personal statistics five games into the 2022 season.
There's a reason for every statistic, good or bad, and some are more telling than others. According to Ragone, though, it's all about perspective.
"I just think sometimes, we as coaches too, we have to understand there's 21 other elements besides the quarterback that can affect other variables that can affect the play. I know we all go back to the quarterback because it's easy see the ball, see the throw, stat lines, everything is easy to see in terms of how a quarterback is playing. I'm not a quarterback defender or martyr, but I'm also saying there are other things that factor in a really good quarterback play at times."
Ragone continued by saying he'd argue that "a great play" is a quarterback avoiding a sack and maybe picking up a yard instead. There is true value, Ragone said, in a quarterback's ability to negate negative plays. That's something he and Smith believe Mariota does for this offense.
"Will that show up on the stat line? No," Ragone said. "But as a coach, you have the utmost appreciation when a player has that ability to help you, (by) keeping the ball moving forward or not taking negative plays."
For Mariota, he's none too concerned with the stats, either. His concern is elsewhere.
"I can understand kind of where we are as an offense," he said. "You know, we're throwing the ball down the field taking shots and play actions. Those things are not the highest percentage, right? You're taking low percentage shots, but you have to be able to do that, especially with the way we run the football, because it creates just a little bit of uncertainty on the defense of what you're trying to do and what you're going to go out there and execute."
"I'm not worried about statistics, I've never been, that's never been a part of who I am. What's most important to me is just going out there and playing efficient and winning football games."
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the San Francisco 49ers.