DeMarco Murray's other big role for Titans: Helping Marcus Mariota sell play-action

The Titans say running back DeMarco Murray is good at the nuances of executing a play-action fake. Said linebacker Brian Orakpo: "DeMarco's pretty good at selling the play-action. He got a few of us early on." AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Selling a play-action fake is typically portrayed as the job of the quarterback. He must really get the ball in the running back’s belly so the defense starts to defend a run, before he removes it to execute a passing play.

The best play-action teams also have offensive lines that sell it well, acting as though the line is run-blocking first, helping buy the sort of defensive hesitation that can help create space.

During recent Tennessee Titans practices, I've wondered just how good a running back can be at his part of the fake because that’s a piece of it I can rarely recall being discussed.

Coach Mike Mularkey said his desire for Titans running backs on play-action is "a good bury the fake."

"Where would you hit the hole if you had the ball?" he said. "Nothing’s changed. Bury it. There are play-actions where they are responsible for [blitz] pickups, that they will totally abort the fake and go to the pickup. But if it’s a clean bootleg or something, run it like it’s the run without the ball."

Since they traded for DeMarco Murray, the Titans have given him high praise as a do-everything back.

And he’s quite good at helping to sell the play-action.

Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo says the recently retired Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy are among the better backs at making the play-action difficult to read.

He said Murray has been similar in practice.

"If you have a running back that can complement a quarterback who’s good at it, it makes it that much harder," Orakpo said. "You have to respect that running back.

"DeMarco’s pretty good at selling the play-action. He got a few of us early on with the same movement. One time, I forgot which outside backer it was, but he actually kept running with him. In that direction toward the running back when he didn’t even have the ball. So he’s definitely very good at it."

With quarterback Marcus Mariota close enough to hear, Mularkey answered a recent question about play-action precision.

"I’m really anal about what happens after the ball is handed off first by the quarterbacks, am I not Marcus?"

"You are," Mariota chimed in.

Later Mariota said Mularkey is always harping on the quarterback selling play-action fakes and getting their eyes around.

A running back doing his part to carry out the fake can really add to the deception, the second-year quarterback said.

"They’ve got to make their reads as well, so if we do play-action or boots or keeps like that, their ability to kind of show that they have the ball or pretend that they have the ball is going to be pivotal for us to get around the corner and make some plays," he said.