Marcus Mariota in May: Healthy, braceless and feeling free

Titans QB Marcus Mariota has ditched the bulky brace he has worn on his left knee since spraining his MCL during his rookie year. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Logan Ryan looked toward the sideline, eyes wide, shaking his head and pointing to the end zone. The Tennessee Titans' veteran cornerback saw exactly what we saw. Marcus Mariota just juked a defender, stuck his foot in the grass and sped up the field separating from another nearby defender. He was clear for six points. The defense didn't have much of a chance, mostly because hitting Mariota means risking job security, but it might not have mattered anyway.

It has been two seasons since he has been on the field and fully healthy during May offseason workouts. There's an overwhelming positive feeling within the Titans building that Mariota will bounce back after a rocky Year 3.

It's only May workouts, way too early to make observations about much of anything. But, of course, all eyes go toward the quarterback, Mariota -- or Ocho, as his future lead receiver Corey Davis calls him.

He delivers a beautiful 50-yard deep bomb to receiver Darius Jennings for a would-be touchdown. He turns the edge on a zone-read keeper that would have earned a first down. He consistently hits Davis across the middle on contested intermediate routes despite some traffic in the pocket.

And on the field, Mariota looks ... free. This is an observation Mariota admitted was accurate. The most noticeable change was Mariota ditching, at least for now, a bulky brace he has worn on his left knee since spraining his MCL during his rookie year. It stayed on him in practices and games as a form of security like a sock. He's happily going barefoot right now.

"It might be a different story when the pads roll on, but for now, yeah, I feel comfortable, I feel good. The whole knee brace, it felt restricting," Mariota said. "But at the same time, I have to be smart and try to be safe out there. We'll see, I'm not sure. I haven't made that decision yet."

You can see progress from Mariota's offseason work to widen his throwing base. It was noticeable in his consistency and throwing power during practice.

"If I'm able to accomplish, really, that goal of mine, to stay in a good solid base throughout, I think I can make a lot of the throws that are asked of me in this offense," Mariota said.

Coach Mike Vrabel added: "The operation is the biggest thing. I think that these guys have worked hard on their fundamentals. Just the operation in and out of the huddle, taking control of the huddle, is something that I'm always going to harp on anybody that plays quarterback."

The installation of Matt LaFleur's offense for Mariota and the rest of the team has already begun, but it is being implemented in stages. And they aren't showing much of it to the media or public just yet.

But a healthy, free and braceless Mariota are all good signs for the Titans in May, July or September. The hope, as always, is it remains that way.