How does Marcus Mariota fit in the Las Vegas Raiders' plans?

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Marcus Mariota was putting on a show early in training camp, much like he did in relief duty for the Las Vegas Raiders late last season.

His passing was on point, his command of the offense preternatural. And there were his legs, his ability and, yes, desire to run.

"He looks like the Galloping Ghost out there," said Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

And just like a specter, Mariota vanished.

He tweaked a leg in a scrimmage at Allegiant Stadium on Aug. 8 and, until suiting up and warming up before Saturday night's exhibition opener, Mariota had not been seen on the practice field by reporters.

Rumors swirled that he was on the trading block, especially after Las Vegas signed a fourth quarterback in Case Cookus to join Mariota, starter Derek Carr and third-stringer Nathan Peterman. And maybe Peterman's performance in taking every snap but one in the Raiders' 20-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks made Mariota that much more expendable (or did it elevate Peterman's trade stock?).

In any event, Mariota, a former No. 2 draft pick, is the most intriguing backup quarterback -- not only on Las Vegas' roster but perhaps the entire league. And yes, he'd very much like to start again in the NFL, thank you very much.

"Yeah, absolutely," said Mariota, who has started 61 of 64 career games, after that scrimmage at Allegiant Stadium. "It is my goal [to start again] and I do keep tabs on what's going on. For us as players, it's kind of important to see what the landscape is.

"But with that being said, I enjoy this team. It's a great organization to play for and this quarterback room is awesome. I think Derek leads the charge. He's a great guy to be around. It's just a lot of fun to learn and grow together. Each and every single day I try to approach it the same way and try to just get better."

Mariota, 27, joined the Raiders as a free agent in March 2020 and appeared in that one game, against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15 after Carr went out early with a groin injury. He had the Raiders on the Chargers' 3-yard line on the opening possession of overtime but Las Vegas had to settle for a field goal. The Chargers then drove down and scored a touchdown to get the win. Mariota completed 17 of 28 passes for 226 yards and a TD with an INT while rushing for 88 yards and a TD on nine carries, eight of which went for first downs.

This offseason, he renegotiated a more team-friendly one-year contract that will pay him $3.5 million.

Early in camp, before a spate of interceptions and the injury, talk had emerged that the Raiders were going to install a red-zone package for the more versatile Mariota. But how would that play with Carr? Surely he would not want to come off the field, right?

Well, Carr saw what went down in New Orleans with Drew Brees and Taysom Hill the past few years.

"When you have weapons like that, then once he touches the field once, people have to put that on a card and practice against it, among the thousands of other things that we do," Carr said. "Trust me, I've been begging to put him out there so I can catch a touchdown. Me and Marcus, every time he goes out there and I go to receiver, I'll tell Marcus, 'Bro, just one time throw it to me. Don't worry about Gru, I'll talk to him.'"

Brilliant, right?

"I love it, and I love Marcus; he's awesome," Carr said. "I told him the other day ... 'I think you run a 4.3 now.' I think he's faster than what he was [before] he broke his ankle.

"The guy works his tail off. He's been one of the best teammates I've ever had and like when he went in that [Chargers] game and played so well, I gave him a hug and I told him how happy I was for him because, obviously, we knew what he went through the year before. So, anytime we can score touchdowns, I don't care how we do it. Trust me; I'm just trying to hold that [Lombardi] Trophy up."

Ironically, Mariota and Carr broke their respective legs on the same day -- Dec. 24, 2016.

And Mariota came to the Raiders as damaged goods last year, recovering from injuries to his ankle and shoulder before hurting a pectoral muscle in camp and opening the season on injured reserve.

Before the tweaked leg last week, he said he was feeling, "A lot better. A lot better. Physically, I was coming off a couple of surgeries last year. And mentally, it was a tough situation in Tennessee and I really appreciate this coaching staff, this team, for welcoming me in, as well as the quarterback room.

"I feel great. I feel confident throwing the football. I have a lot of fun in this system. Each and every single day I think it's great to be around a group of guys that enjoy the game and it's just a lot of fun to go to work."

That work will presumably find Mariota this week as the Raiders travel to Los Angeles for a pair of joint practices with the Rams before Saturday night's exhibition.

"I think the level of excitement for all of us is Coach Gruden does a great job of creating roles for each and every single individual player," Mariota said. "With that being said, I just have a lot of fun playing in this system and I look forward to just carving out that role and doing whatever I can to help this team win."