FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Marcus Mariota and Arthur Smith are running it back. Well, sort of, in the sense that they worked together in Tennessee, parted ways for two seasons and are back on the same squad here in Atlanta.
The familiarity is there, no doubt, during this go-round. It is not, however, just like old times. Both men are different, impacted by recent experience.
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Mariota spent two seasons as Derek Carr's backup in Last Vegas, playing a little and watching a lot. Smith went from Titans offensive coordinator to Falcons head coach, with a year-plus in his new role.
That's why what's happening is both familiar and different. That's not a bad thing.
"We've been through a lot, with different situations and scenarios," Mariota said. "From that perspective, being able to bring those things out here on the field, we both understand that ant the end of the day, we just want to play our best football.
"Art is doing a good job of allowing me to feel like I can go out there and play free. I'm excited for this chance to grow with these guys. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
Dig that term. Getting Mariota to operate that way would be a positive thing for the Falcons offense. He's already feeling that push to do so from the coaching staff, to trust what he sees, to read right and react.
"From a standpoint of playing free – we talk about it constantly in the quarterback room – sometimes you can get really robotic. Especially me," Mariota said. "You can get, 'here's your progression: 1, 2, 3, 4,' but the game doesn't always work that way. Working with [offensive coordinator Dave Ragone] and [quarterbacks coach Charles] London, being able come to the 7-on-7s and jog-throughs and just play free, play what you see and trust your eyes."
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Mariota's eyes, and the rest of him, really, is a little older and wiser than his last regular playing opportunity. He has been able to learn from past experiences and use it in this scheme. His familiarity with it will help playing free come faster. The better he knows the scheme, its rules and apply them before snaps and within plays, will help him work quickly and use his natural talents, of which there are many, without hesitation.
"I really learned from that experience and from being a backup," Mariota said. "When you have to sit and watch, it's a different perspective. With that being said, I've been able to use those experiences as tools. Being around Art, where he has had a similar experience, where he has been a head coach for a year. Being able to take those experience has allowed us to play better and play quote-unquote free."
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