NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Versatility is a buzzword for the Tennessee Titans.
But it’s flexibility that now keys their chance to climb back to respectability.
Can Ken Whisenhunt revise his offense in a way that will spur the development of Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 pick in the draft, to grow into a pro-style pocket passer on a reasonably rapid curve? Can the Titans' second-year coach, who gravitated to the immobile, cannon-armed Zach Mettenberger in 2014, find ways to use Mariota’s smooth-movement skills?
Whisenhunt said he and his staff started some rewriting of the offensive playbook as soon as a few weeks ago while pondering the idea of Mariota joining the team.
“We’ve already started working on that. We’ll have a plan,” Whisenhunt said Thursday night. “I think one of the important things is … you’ve got to push him, you’ve got to challenge him. But, obviously, there are some things he does well and we’ll incorporate those into what we are doing. So it’s going to be a little bit of a blend.”
Fans are understandably skeptical of the blending idea, as Whisenhunt appeared very rigid about what he wanted and would do last season.
To be fair to Whisenhunt on the inflexibility issue, he's had quality quarterbacks that have been worth making the changes.
He helped shape a young Ben Roethlisberger as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. He helped get veteran Philip Rivers back on track in 2013 in a season as coordinator in San Diego. In six years as head coach in Arizona, he won with Kurt Warner, going to a Super Bowl.
Whisenhunt had a big role in the success of those three high quality quarterbacks.
With the Cardinals, the coach struggled with a slew of others: Matt Leinart, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Max Hall, Brian Hoyer, Derek Anderson, Ryan Lindley, Brian St. Pierre, Tim Rattay and Richard Bartel.
Of that list, only two were drafted by Arizona while Whisenhunt was coach -- Skelton in the fifth round (155th) and Lindley in the sixth (185th).
The coach inherited a first-rounder in Leinart, who failed with the Cardinals and elsewhere. In Tennessee, Whisenhunt inherited a first-rounder in Jake Locker, who failed with him and retired.
Mariota, then, is a new test case.
He’s a Heisman Trophy winner, coveted by several teams at the top of the draft, chosen second overall by the team Whisenhunt is coaching.
“I’m going to do my best to transition everything,” Mariota said. “I’m going to continue to be the player that I’ve always been and do whatever is asked of me. Coach Whisenhunt is going to have his offense and his complexities of his system, and I’m going to do my best to execute it. I won’t change the type of player I am and hopefully we’ll continue to find success and execute well.”
The Titans believe Mariota has an NFL skill set.
It’s now incumbent on Whisenhunt to show he can make those skills work in his scheme, tinkering with his new quarterback and his old offense as much as needed to make it all work.