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Marcus Mariota is healthy again, and Titans' success depends on it

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- All eyes were on Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota as the team opened practice Saturday afternoon. The vibe was positive. It was hard to tell that Mariota was coming off a gruesome broken right leg several months ago.

Highlight throws down the sidelines to tight end Delanie Walker and receiver Eric Decker showed the potential of what this Titans offense can be: explosive, multidimensional and a legitimate threat for AFC defenses.

"You just feel like a little kid going out there and playing ball," said Mariota, who was all smiles after Saturday's practice.

Titans head coach Mike Mularkey limited the number of dynamic plays called for Mariota, but he gave the quarterback his full allotment of reps. It has been only one day of practice, but a few of the 2,400 fans in attendance at Saint Thomas Sports Park were exclaiming that Mariota is completely back to normal.

"I'm pretty pleased," Mularkey said. "He made some throws -- the throw to Delanie. He had some out-of-pocket plays that, obviously, we didn’t do at all in the offseason. He was great at those. That's a great sign for Day 1."

Mariota has been fully cleared physically, but the toughest recovery for these major injuries is often mental. Trust is often the last thing to return, but Mariota said he has overcome that hurdle, as well.

"When you go through this process, you want to get to this point," Mariota said. "The process getting here is tough, but now that I'm here, it's kinda nice to enjoy it and be out there with the guys."

Headed into Year 3, Mariota has the potential, and now the offensive weapons, to enter his name in the elite quarterback discussions. He's more comfortable in offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie's scheme, and the coaching staff believes in him to lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It will all depend on Mariota staying healthy and being more consistent.

Playing weight has been a topic of discussion over the past week, after Mariota said he plans to be lighter, leaner and faster this season at 218 pounds. It puzzled some that Mariota would decrease weight after his second consecutive season-ending injury, but he has his reasons behind the change.

"I was looking to cut weight so it can help me be explosive and be able to move around," said Mariota, who was listed at 222 pounds last season. "Carrying extra weight, I don't think is going to allow me to do that."

Mariota's accuracy and dual-threat playing style have been the perfect fit for the Titans' ground-and-pound offense. The Titans surrounded Mariota with a top-notch offensive line and an array of new weapons. The hope is it will elevate the offense and take pressure off Mariota having to subject himself to more contact than needed. It's yet to be seen whether that includes fewer called runs and requests for Mariota to slide when contact is near.

If there was anything to glean from Saturday, it's that this Titans offense can be special if Mariota is healthy. So far, it's off to a good start.