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'Point guard' Marcus Mariota chasing assists, consistent footwork

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota has channeled his inner Chris Paul this summer in an effort to take his game -- and the Titans -- to the next level.

Mariota is already preparing for the moment when the first wide receiver or tight end approaches him to demand the ball more. The Titans have numerous offensive options, so they likely won't get the touches they are accustomed to, but Mariota says that's a good problem. It puts the pressure on him to feed all of them, rather than depending on one or two guys.

"I always think of myself as a point guard," Mariota said after Wednesday's practice. "I just distribute the ball to these guys and let them make good plays. With the amount of weapons we have, it’s going to be a lot of fun."

On Saturday, Mariota will play in a live game -- the Titans' preseason opener against the New York Jets -- for the first time since breaking his right leg seven and a half months ago. He won't see many reps, but his primary goal is to "knock the rust off" in game-like situations and make sure the offense is flowing.

Mariota already has developed strong chemistry with newcomers Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor and Corey Davis (before Davis injured his hamstring). Connections with tight end Delanie Walker and receiver Rishard Matthews have remained crisp as well.

The Titans' newfound offensive diversity, mixing their smashmouth running attack with talented receiving playmakers, should consistently threaten defenses. Mariota won't change his willingness to run, but maybe this development will reduce his need to carry the offense in crucial situations.

"I love that guy. He's definitely the glue of this team," left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "We want to take care of him.”

A difficult six-month rehab has returned Mariota's ability to make plays with his legs. He wears a brace on his left knee (he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015), which he says he'll sport for the rest of his career, but it hasn't hampered him from taking off when there's open field.

"It’s a contact sport. At some point, I’ll get hit and that’s part of it," Mariota said. "I’m not worried about it."

Mariota never had any doubts he would play Saturday, and Titans coach Mike Mularkey ultimately agreed. Still, Mariota's teammates and coaches are more at ease when he's not getting hit.

"He needs it to get back on the saddle. It'll be good for him, but I really don't want him to be hit, to be honest with you," Mularkey said. "I don't want him touched. I don't want a finger laid on him, ever."

Footwork is the area where Mariota wants to make his biggest jump in 2017. He said last season that he'd get lazy or try to speed up his footwork and the ball would sail on him. He's spent a lot of time working on being more disciplined with his drops and timing.

The result, Mariota and the Titans hope, is an increase in assists -- and a passing attack that threatens defenses on all three levels.