Every NFL rebuilding project could use someone like Falcons QB Marcus Mariota

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. Chalk it up as an encouraging break for the rookie quarterback cutting his NFL teeth in the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp. Marcus Mariota, the battered veteran whose job Desmond Ridder covets, is willing to help.

Hey, that’s not always automatic. It was only a few weeks ago that Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill found himself backtracking – and widely blasted on social media – for declaring that it wasn’t his job to “mentor” rookie Malik Willis.

Go back further and there are tales of the cold shoulder that Aaron Rodgers got from Brett Favre as a Green Bay Packers rookie, reminiscent of the ice that existed a generation ago when Joe Montana shunned understudy Steve Young with the San Francisco 49ers. It can happen in such competitive zones.

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But not here, not now. After the veteran and third-round rookie split reps during the first practice on Wednesday, they could have just as well sung “Kumbaya” to christen the so-called competition.

No, in this case, it’s “Marcus the Mentor,” seeming to be every bit the servant-leader.

“I learned a long time ago,” Mariota, an eighth-year pro, said when I asked about his approach. “I left my ego at the door. I really try to help wherever I can, even if it’s Desmond, if it’s Drake (London, first-round receiver), if it’s a younger guy like KP (second-year tight end Kyle Pitts): I just try to do and give all that I can because I’ve been in so many different scenarios in my career

“I’ve been a starter. I’ve been benched. I’ve been a backup. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been all these different things, so being able to take those experiences and help whenever I can, I think will ultimately make our team better. So, that’s really what I focus on.”

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) passes the ball during training camp at IBM Performance Field.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) passes the ball during training camp at IBM Performance Field.

Sure, tough tests loom. Although Falcons coach Arthur Smith maintains that he’s running an “open” competition across the board, there’s no question that it’s Mariota’s job to lose – and also a huge platform for the former Heisman Trophy winner to re-ignite an NFL career that began with so much promise when he was drafted no. 2 overall by the Titans in 2015.

Mariota, 28, signed a two-year deal in March that reunites him with Smith, his former coordinator with the Titans, and gives the Falcons – who were among the teams in pursuit of Deshaun Watson – at least some semblance of a stopgap in transitioning from the 14 seasons that Matt Ryan served as the face of the franchise.

Mariota spent the past two seasons backing up Derek Carr with the Raiders, the landing spot after his five spotty seasons in Tennessee ended when he was supplanted by Tannehill.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to prove, not only to myself, but to those who have believed in me,” he said. “So, I’m excited. The last couple of years have been a great reset. I learned a lot from Derek. I learned a lot being there. But I feel ready to go.”

Given the twists of his career journey, you’d expect nothing less than for Mariota to be gung-ho. Never mind that the salary cap-strapped Falcons are widely projected to be NFL bottom feeders rather than a playoff contender. Forget that he’s lining up behind a suspect O-line that contributed to Ryan suffering 40 sacks in 2021, tied for fifth-most in the league. And you’d hate to think Mariota won’t someday reap the benefits, given the lumps he may take during the rebuilding project.

Nevertheless, it’s the chance that Mariota has been waiting for. It helps that he’s familiar with Smith’s offense, suited for mobile quarterbacks with its read-option calls and moving pockets – which might cover to some degree for that spotty offensive line. And undoubtedly, the Falcons knew they were getting an in-house tutor for whatever young quarterbacks they brought aboard.

“I kind of feel like that’s the older player’s role, to kind of help the younger guys,” Mariota said. “I think that’s the culture being built here. I’ve been places where it’s not necessarily that way.”

Good for them. In this case, the rookie is pretty much embedded with the vet. Better that they are both professing to have legit chemistry.

Someone asked Mariota how much time he anticipates spending with Ridder.

“Damn near 24/7,” Mariota said.

On top of the practices and meetings, they are roommates. Ridder will have ample opportunity to pick Mariota’s brain.

“Like Coach (Smith) said on the field today, he said, ‘iron sharpens iron,'” said Ridder, who led the University of Cincinnati to an undefeated regular season (12-0) in 2021 and the school’s first College Football Playoff. appearance: “That’s all we want to do is make each other better.

“We obviously know that at the end of the day there is a competition. We want it to be a healthy competition. That doesn’t mean I cheer when he does a bad thing or he celebrates when I do a bad thing…but making sure we’re keeping each other up in good times and bad times. But it’s been great. We’ve got a great camaraderie. Obviously, the same style of play. So, we get in the meeting room and we joke that there’s not as many athletic people in that room as us.”

Mariota is perhaps the perfect mentor for Ridder. And the lean-on-me camaraderie might go a long way in easing tension if this competition gets thicker with time.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell:.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY. Marcus Mariota is right QB for Atlanta Falcons’ challenging job

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