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Mike Mularkey: Marcus Mariota's hesitation related to trust with receivers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While the Tennessee Titans concede Marcus Mariota is part of the problem with the passing game, this year’s version of the team is pointing to the same long-standing issue: Wide receiver imprecision.

“He’s an accurate quarterback,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “It’s not going to be always perfect, especially when you’ve got guys in your face or you have to move in the pocket. It’s not going to be always perfect. And that’s when those not-so-perfect throws have to be caught when they’re catchable.”

Through four games, the Titans’ starting wide receivers have pedestrian numbers.

Tajae Sharpe has 16 catches for 172 yards and Rishard Matthews has 12 catches for 180. Neither had scored.

The rookie Sharpe and the veteran free-agent Matthews were supposed to bring the Titans the sort of precision they’ve lacked in guys they moved on from -- raw athletes Justin Hunter and Dorial Green-Beckham.

It is more frustrating that precise guys are being imprecise than it was when raw, unrefined guys were. The team’s best receivers are tight end Delanie Walker and running back DeMarco Murray.

Short stuff was the bread-and-butter for Mariota as a rookie, and should be for just about any NFL quarterback.

But in the 27-20 loss in Houston, Mariota was 9-of-19 on passes thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, the worst completion percentage of his career on such passes. Per ESPN Stats and Information, Mariota overthrew his target four times and a defender made a play on the ball four times. The two incompletions were throwaways.

“I’d say on a couple of those, yeah, he needs to put the ball on them better,” Mularkey said. “I’d also say if we run precision routes where we are supposed to be, it’ll certainly make that a lot easier.”

Mularkey said the Titans are creating new practice periods to help the quarterback get timing down with the receivers.

“That was his 16th start, that was his fourth start with some of the guys, really they are brand new,” Mularkey said. “I think it will improve, I’m almost ensuring that it will improve.”

Mularkey said Sharpe had been on a roll but has taken a step back over the last two weeks and is rushing a lot of things. The coach said that while Matthews made a couple of good plays, he had a chance for more if he’d been more exacting.

The Titans got a 60-yard Mariota-to-Matthews completion and should have had more big plays.

“There were some routes we had chances to hit deep that we did not, we did not run the route we’re looking for,” Mularkey said. “We’ve got to just be more precise outside, and I think you’ll see better production in the passing game.”

Familiarity isn’t where the Titans need it to be, and that accounts for what Mularkey said is Mariota's hesitation.

“A lot of it’s the timing of Marcus, because Marcus is a guy that will unload it with their backs still turned to him,” he said. “If he understands and trusts that they’re going to be where they are supposed to be, the ball will come out quicker and there won’t be that hesitation that you’re seeing.

“They need to be where they are supposed to be.”