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Tennessee Titans' quarterback Marcus Mariota's NFL career is at a crossroads

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USA Today

Tennessee Titans' quarterback Marcus Mariota's NFL career is at a crossroads

Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota shouldn't be considered a bust four years into his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans. That designation would be patently unfair. 

However, it's clear that the 2014 Heisman Trophy recipient has yet to distinguish himself as a star in the NFL, of as even a legitimate building block at the most important position for a potential championship contender. 

A proper grade for Mariota's career to date would be: Incomplete. 

For that reason, and the realities of financial obligations surrounding the most important single position in any team sport, Tennessee was wise to acquire quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a sixth-round pick in 2019 for a fourth-round pick in 2020 and a seventh-round pick this year.

Mariota is due to make $21 million this season on the final year of his rookie deal. Tennessee has not indicated that it will seek to sign Mariota, 25, to an extension until after he proves himself this upcoming season. And why should they? Mariota has not demonstrated that he is worthy a team tying up $100 million with huge long-term cap hits to a quarterback that has not proven to be a franchise guy. 

That's exactly the reason why Miami moved Tannehill, 30, after seven seasons with the Dolphins. In 2015, he signed a contract extension worth $96 million that tied him to Miami through 2020. But instead of continuing with that deal, Miami decided to move on from Tannehill and take a cap hit of about $13.4 million this season in order to free up money sooner and find another quarterback in the process. 

Miami took a chance on Tannehill and it didn't pay off. Tennessee is trying to avoid making the same mistake with Mariota and has signed Tannehill as insurance in case the former Duck is injured or simply does not perform well. The Titans will be in a position to either sign Mariota long-term should he elevate his play, or franchise tag him in 2020 and make him prove it again, or let him go with no cap ramifications and go with Tannehill in 2020, or completely start over at quarterback without a huge financial obligation at that position. 

Titans general manager Jon Robinson has stated that Mariota is the starter and that Tannehill is being brought in as the backup. But he is no ordinary backup. He is a former full-time starter that has had some success and would offer a much better option to turn to than Blaine Gabbert did last season. 

Robinson met with the media today and talked about Mariota's progress from his injury that slowed him last season. 

“He said he's feeling good, working out and moving around, throwing,” Robinson said told reporters. “I think he's going to come back here a little bit before the appointed time (April 15) and get some work in. I'm looking forward to getting back to work with him, excited to have him back on our football team. Look forward to it.”

Mariota has been brilliant at times. In his second season he passed fro 26 touchdowns with nine interceptions and appeared to be on the fast track to stardom. But his season ended late in the year when he fractured his fibula. The impacts of that injury appeared to linger the following season and he regressed, passing for just 13 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. Tennessee used a potent running game and solid defense to overcome the lack of a quality passing game and reached the playoffs where Mariota orchestrated a second-half comeback at Kansas City that resulted in a playoff victory for the Titans. 

Last season, Mariota began slowly after an elbow injury cost him some time. But he was magnificent on several occasions.

  • Sept. 30 vs. Philadelphia: Mariota had arguably his best performance as a professional when he threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and had the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to defeat Philadelphia 26-23. He also rushed for a touchdown. 
  • Nov. 5 at Dallas: Mariota threw for 240 yards on 21-of-29 passing with two touchdowns and ran for another in a 28-14 Monday night win at the Cowboys.
  • Nov. 11 vs. New England: Mariota completed 16 of 24 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in a 34-10 win over New England.
  • Nov. 26 at Houston: Mariota completed 22 of 23 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Texans. 

 

The problem was that Mariota had trouble staying healthy, twice going down with injuries. He also closed the season with zero touchdown passes over his final three appearances, all victories, to finish with 11 touchdown passes and eight interceptions on the season. 

In 29 starts over the past two years, Mariota has thrown just 24 touchdowns with 23 interceptions. Compare those numbers to Tannehill​​​​​​'s final two healthy seasons in Miami (he missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury) when over 24 starts he threw for 36 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. 

On paper, one would wonder why Tennessee is even bothering with allowing Mariota to be the presumptive starter in 2019. But there are plenty of reasons why one shouldn't give up on Mariota just yet. 

First, and maybe foremost, he has had three head coach in four seasons. Ken Whisenhunt was the man in 2015 when the Titans drafted Mariota but was let go after a 1-6 start and replaced by Mike Mularkey.  Mariota had his best season under Mularkey and won a playoff game the following season. But, the Titans let him go following the 2017 season to hired Mike Vrabel. He is now on his second offensive coordinator after Matt LaFleur left Tennessee after one season to take the same job in Green Bay. The Titans elevated former tight ends coach Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator. 

Needless to say, a revolving door of head coaches and offensive coordinators is not very quarterback friendly. 

Also, Tennessee has been very average at wide receiver during Mariota's career. Dorial Green-Beckham led team wide receivers in 2015 with 549 yards. Rishard Matthews led the team in 2016 with 945 yards and in 2017 with 795. Corey Davis, the fifth-overall pick in 2017, led Titans' wide receivers with 891 last year and appears to be on track to becoming a legit star. Maybe. 

The lack of a true No. 1 receiver over the years and then the season-ending injury to tight end Delanie Walker last season, have certainly worked against Mariota's progress as a quarterback. But blaming the receivers only goes so far. 

What we know about Mariota is that he still can move around at an elite level with his feet, he is extremely accurate on short and intermediate throws and he doesn't make a ton of mistakes, although he still suffers from some ball security issues in the pocket that popped up from time to time when he was at Oregon. 

Mariota, just like when he was at Oregon, has not proven to be a great downfield passer. He doesn't scare teams deep. Your best NFL quarterbacks - Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes II, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, etc,. - can all strike fear in the hearts of defenses with the threat of the long touchdown pass. With Mariota, so far, not so much. 

One thing that must be pointed out is that Mariota's overall efficiency last season was at a career high. His passer rating of 92.3 ranks behind his second season (95.6) only if we include the two interceptions he threw during the season-opening loss to Miami that occurred on two throws made after he injured his right elbow and still tried to play through the numbness in his passing hand. 

Take those passes out of the equation and Mariota's passer rating pops up a bit to a career-high of 96.6. But that would only rank 15th in the NFL during an era when a rating of 100 or better is the gold standard. 

Plus, with the season on the line, Mariota was unable to play against the Colts in the final regular season game. The Titans, who started Gabbert, lost 33-17. 

It's safe to say that the 2019 season is Mariota's final audition for the Titans in an attempt to convince them to give him a fat new contract. He must stay healthy. Put up 35-30 total touchdowns. Lead the team to the playoffs. And show that he is worthy of a long-term investment.

Should he fail, Mariota could be on the move next season and it might be to find a job similar to the one Tannehill has now. 

New Oregon baseball coach Mark Wasikowski ready to “fulfill the dream” of the program

New Oregon baseball coach Mark Wasikowski ready to “fulfill the dream” of the program

Ready for a new era of Oregon baseball? New head coach Mark Wasikowski is. The 48-year-old met with the media for the first time after being officially introduced by Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens on Friday. Here are some of the most interesting takeaways.

Former players went to bat for Wasikowski (pun intended)

While interviewing six candidates for the job, Mullens had conversations with former Duck players Wasikowski coached during his time at Oregon as an assistant to former coach George Horton from 2012-16.

His players insisted that Wasikowski cared deeply about his student-athletes, developed them on and off the field and instilled a highly competitive spirit.

Big goals

One of the main reasons Wasikowski returned to Oregon was to take the program to the next level.

"I want a program that wants to push the envelope,” Wasikowski said. “I want a program where guys show up every day to not only beat people, but make a statement that Oregon baseball is for real."

His goals are simple- make it to Omaha for the College World Series and compete for national titles. He noted that when the program was rebooted, that was the vision. "It's time to fulfill the dream," Wasikowski said. The Ducks haven’t reached the tournament since 2015, the season he left to become head coach at Purdue.

Fast Hard Finish?

Although Wasikowski has a defensive philosophy, he also “wants to see the baseball hit into the gaps, hit over the fence." He plans on leaning on pitching and defense as Oregon’s sustainable product while also creating an entertaining product for fans at PK Park.

Speed was a major point of emphasis. Wasikowski stressed the value of stealing bases, and pushing tempo to put pressure on opposing teams.

Fresh slate

The Oregon baseball program is going to get a much-needed fresh start. Wasikowski said players will have a chance to forge their reputations in his eye in coming months. It’s important to note a number of current players were at the press conference.

Wasikowski also expects to complete his coaching staff in coming days.

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson focused on Auburn, aiming for National Championship

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson focused on Auburn, aiming for National Championship

Welcome into a new running NBC Sports Northwest feature; Talkin’ with the Ducks. The first edition is with the largest wide receiver on Oregon’s roster, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson.

This is the final video of the series, focused on the future of Oregon football and Johnson's last season playing college football. As a new addition and one of the oldest players on the roster, Johnson has had to balance his leadership skills in the wide receiver room. 

"All I want to do is win," said Johnson. "I hate losing... I don’t take losing well."

Juwan's goals start with winning the first game on the schedule, Oregon vs. Auburn in Cowboys Stadium in Texas

[WATCH PART 1: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

[WATCH PART 2: Coach Cristobal's major impact on Juwan Johnson after his father passed]

[WATCH PART 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby]

[WATCH PART 4: Juwan Johnson describes the Oregon wide receiver room]

Red flags and stress: NBA analyst says pass on Bol Bol

Red flags and stress: NBA analyst says pass on Bol Bol

The highest-rated basketball player to ever sign with Oregon who seemed to have come and gone in a blink of an eye. With the NBA Draft right around the corner, there are some hot takes on Bol Bol.

It’s easy to see why Bol is one of the most intriguing players in the 2019 NBA draft: 7-foot 2 centers with 7-foot-8 wingspans with terrific outside shooting (52 percent from three) don’t come along often. In his nine games with the Ducks, he led the team in points (21.0 per game), rebounds (9.6) and blocks (2.7).

However, Rob Dauster of NBC Sports is saying to pass on the former 5-star recruit who has been pegged as a boom-or-bust prospect. Here are the red flags:

Bol’s measurements

Bol weighed in 208 pounds, the same weight as Duke’s 6'8" Cam Reddish. He also was listed at 7.1 percent body fat, one of the highest percentages measured. On the 2018-19 Oregon basketball roster, Bol was listed as 235 pounds before his season ending foot injury. It’s highly possible Oregon rounded up on his weight, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that the 18-year-old has dropped almost 30 pounds. However, NBA teams will want to see him get stronger and put on more weight.

Who will Bol be able to guard in the NBA?

“For someone that can be such a high-level rim protector when he wants to be, Bol is just a terrible defender. In an era where versatility and positionless basketball has become king, the saying you’ll hear in coaching circles is, “You are who you can guard,” says Dauster.

“He also has nowhere near the footspeed or lateral quickness to be able to defend anyone on the perimeter. The idea of asking him to switch a pick-and-roll and try to stay in front of any NBA guard will cost his coaching staff next season at least two hours of sleep every night before a game.”

Durability/Endurance

Durability is the biggest issue that surrounds Bol as he joined a large group of seven-footers with foot problems. He has dealt with various injuries throughout his basketball career and questions will linger until he’s back on the court.

“If his conditioning was an issue playing just nine games at the college level, will he be able to handle the rigors of an 82-game season while carrying 250-260 pounds in an ideal world?” says Dauster.

Work ethic

How much does Bol like basketball? Work ethic and mentality concerns have loomed around Bol since coming out of high school. At Oregon, sometimes he’d float on the perimeter and shy away from contact. How hard is he willing to work to develop into the best NBA player he can be?

“He needs to live in the weight room for his first two or three seasons in the NBA. When he’s not in the weight room, he needs to be in the practice gym, learning how to play and where to be on the defensive side of the ball,” says Dauster.

 

Bol’s talent was undeniable during his short stint in green and yellow. But did he display enough of his immense potential before the season ending injury to wipe away the red flag durability concerns?

Bol’s ceiling is high as a floor-spacing, rim-protecting big man. But does his potential for stardom outweigh the possibility of a bust? And if so, which team will roll the dice on his unique skillset?

A lot of questions and not many answers… Stay tuned for more as the 2019 NBA Draft begins June 20.

Former Ducks QB Darron Thomas back on the gridiron at Jefferson High School

Former Ducks QB Darron Thomas back on the gridiron at Jefferson High School

The outstanding, Rose Bowl winning, National Title contending quarterback is back on the gridiron. 

On Tuesday, Darron Thomas was hired to the coaching staff of the Jefferson High School Democrats football team. Located in north Portland, Oregon, Thomas will be Run Game Coordinator and Strength & Conditioning coach.

JEFFERSON HIGH SCHOOL:

The Democrats football program has a history of excellence: Heisman Trophy Winner; No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft; A member in the NFL Hall of Fame. But the Demos are going through quite the coaching turnover as of recent news.

The same day, the Demos also hired former Oregon Ducks DB Dominique Harrison as the new DB coach. 

Also, Houston Lillard (Damian Lillard's brother):

AT OREGON:

Just a freshman prodigy from Houston, Texas, Thomas arrived in Eugene, Oregon in 2008 in what would be one heck of a collegiate career for the Ducks. In 2011, he lead the Ducks his Junior season to a 45-38 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin earning Oregon it’s first National Championship appearance in the school’s history. 

Thomas and Harrison join Keanon Lowe (Parkrose High School) as other former Oregon Ducks to coach in the greater Portland High School scene. 

Official: Oregon baseball hires new coach

Official: Oregon baseball hires new coach

After parting ways with former coach George Horton, Oregon baseball has found their new head coach... and you may already know him. 

The following is from the UO athletic department:

EUGENE, Ore. –University of Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens announced today that Mark Wasikowski has been named the head baseball coach for the Ducks. Wasikowski has served as the head coach at Purdue University for the last three seasons (2017-19) and was an assistant coach at Oregon the previous five seasons (2012-16).

“We are excited to add a high-energy and experienced coach in Mark to lead our baseball program,” Mullens said. “He has an outstanding work ethic and a track record as an excellent recruiter, and we expect to compete for championships under his leadership. Mark has a wide breadth of experience in both the Pac-12 and beyond, and we are confident that the success on the horizon as well as his high level of engagement will provide a first-class experience for our baseball student-athletes.”

Wasikowski led Purdue to a 39-win season in 2018, leading the Boilermakers to only the third NCAA Regional appearance in school history and only the second since 1982. The 2018 Purdue team won 22 of its last 27 regular season games, including a 13-game winning streak, and finished second in the Big Ten both during the regular season and the postseason conference tournament.

“I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity from Rob Mullens, Eric Roedl and the University of Oregon administration,” Wasikowski said. “Roughly 12 years ago, a dream and a vision from Pat Kilkenny, Joe Giansante, and Hall of Fame coach George Horton started the Oregon baseball program. The program literally started from scratch and is now in a solid position moving forward. We will not shy away from the goal of playing for and winning a National Championship, as challenging as that will be. My family and I are thrilled for the opportunity in Eugene, and I can’t wait to get to work. Go Ducks!”

During his first season at Purdue, Wasikowski led the Boilermakers to 29 wins, a 19-win improvement from the 10-44 campaign the team had the year before his arrival. Wasikowski is 87-82 (.515) in his three years as the head coach at Purdue, and the three years before his arrival saw the Boilermakers post a combined winning percentage of .272 (43-115). His consecutive winning seasons with Purdue from 2017-18 marked only the second such occurrence for the school since 2003-04. In his first season at Purdue in 2017, the team was 8-3 in one-run games after posting a 2-13 record in those games the year before.

During Wasikowski’s five seasons as an assistant at Oregon, the Ducks compiled a 205-106 (.659) record and advanced to postseason play four times, including the 2012 Super Regionals. UO averaged 41 wins during that stretch, with three seasons of 40-plus wins that included a school-record 48 victories in 2013. From 2012-15 the Ducks won 176 games, tied for the sixth-most in the nation during that four-year span.

The starting third baseman and a captain of the 1992 Pepperdine national championship team, Wasikowski began his coaching career as a student assistant for the Waves in 1994. In addition to his stint with the Ducks, he served as an assistant coach under Andy Lopez at Arizona for 10 seasons (2002-11) and at Florida for three years (1999-2001). Wasikowski also spent two seasons (1997-1998) at Southeast Missouri State. The teams for whom he has coached have appeared in a Regional Tournament in 15 of his 23 seasons.

Wasikowski is married to Lori Jo, and the couple has two daughters, Joelle and Kelsey.

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson describes "competitive" wide receiver room

Talkin’ with the Ducks: Juwan Johnson describes "competitive" wide receiver room

Welcome into a new running NBC Sports Northwest feature; Talkin’ with the Ducks. The first edition is with the largest wide receiver on Oregon’s roster, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson.

As a new addition and one of the oldest players on the roster, Johnson has an interesting perspective on the Oregon wide receiver room. 

Does it feel like a good problem to have so many receivers vying for playing time and Justin Herbert’s passes?

"It’s a very good problem," Johnson said. "It doesn’t create tension but it definitely creates competition in the room. The last thing you need is a receiver feeling comfortable in his position. I came here to play… I expect everyone else to elevate their game because I’m here, the freshman that are coming in or the old guys who are improving their game."

[WATCH PART 1: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

[WATCH PART 2: Coach Cristobal's major impact on Juwan Johnson after his father passed]

[WATCH PART 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby]

Oregon football offseason updates: 6 takeaways from Mario Cristobal

Oregon football offseason updates: 6 takeaways from Mario Cristobal

College football is creeping in… Ready for some Duck football updates? Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal met with the media prior to the Portland Golf Classic at Langdon Farms Golf Club on Monday. Here are the biggest takeaways:

1. FOOTBALL STAFF IS NOT ON PAR

Cristobal is admittedly bad at golf, has never played 18 holes and spends a lot of time recruiting while he is on the greens. In fact, he said the entire UO football staff is not good on the golf course. He thinks it is a good sign that his staff is much better at their jobs than golfing.

2. 500 POUND SQUAT CLUB IS GROWING

The Ducks are getting after it in the weight room as apart of their offseason strength and conditioning program. Junior defensive lineman Jordon Scott posted a video squatting 605 pounds and freshman defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux just joined the 500-pound squat club.

Last year, Oregon had 29 players who could squad 400 or more pounds. That number has almost doubled to 56 players in the “400 club”, according to Cristobal. 15 Ducks can squat 500 pounds compared to three a year ago. He gave a special shout out to the seniors who have been leading the way in the weight room.

3. CRISTOBAL IS PROUD OF THE DUCKS IN THE COMMUNITY

Oregon football has been ever present in the community this offseason. The Ducks had almost 60 players volunteer for the Oregon football women’s clinic and quarterback Justin Herbert spends a lot of his time in the OHeroes program.

“There is no head faking, there is no putting on a show,” Cristobal said. “I’m proud of the fact that they chose to be apart of the community and chose to give back because if it’s forced, it’s not the same. Our players are made of the right stuff on the inside and that’s what we are most proud of.”

4. THE REST OF UO’S BEST EVER RECRUITING CLASS ON CAMPUS IN TWO WEEKS

It was all eyes on Oregon’s 11 early enrollees during spring football practices. Now, the rest of Oregon’s highest-rated class is headed to Eugene and will arrive on campus on June 22-23.

The remaining four-star recruits that will officially join the team in two weeks are: linebacker Masu Funa, wide receiver Lance Wilhoite, offensive lineman Jonah Tauanu'u, running back Sean Dollars and defensive tackle Keyon Ware-Hudson.

“They have about four-and-a-half weeks to prepare for their first collegiate season,” said Cristobal. “They have about four-and-a-half weeks to do a great job in the classroom, learn the systems, get in the best shape they can, attack every phase of the process we have set for them before a small break before we start fall camp.”

5. NATE COSTA JOINING THE STAFF IS A BIG DEAL

Cristobal praised former Oregon quarterback Nate Costa, who played for Oregon from 2006-10. Cristobal hired Costa as a Senior Offensive Analyst in March but it’s not the first time the two have met.

“I met Nate three years ago,” Cristobal said. “While I was in Tuscaloosa, he came in for an interview… Super bright guy with an extremely high football I.Q. He has been in a couple different systems and has done some coaching as well at IMG. He’s a very well respected guy and a guy that will, without question, help us offensively.”

6. OREGON IS HIGHLY MONITORING TRANSFER PORTAL

Since the NCAA has altered the transfer rules, granting a larger number of waivers for immediate eligibility, many programs have adjusted their strategies. The Ducks aren't making any drastic changes but always on high alert when it comes to the transfer portal.

"If you have to change because of the transfer portal, you're probably not doing it right to begin with. I say that very openly and honestly," Cristobal said. "If you have to change what you are because of an adjustment, I think that’s a problem. We don’t change, we are what we are, 24/7, 365. We do things the right way, we work extremely hard, we’re demanding but not demeaning. We take care of our players but we also make sure to challenge them and push them to reach their highest potential. “

Talkin’ with the Ducks pt. 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby

Talkin’ with the Ducks pt. 3: Juwan Johnson's pregame rituals, secret hobby

Welcome into a new running NBC Sports Northwest feature; Talkin’ with the Ducks. The first edition is with the largest wide receiver on Oregon’s roster, graduate transfer Juwan Johnson.

[WATCH PART 1: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

[WATCH PART 2: Coach Cristobal's major impact on Juwan Johnson after his father passed]

In part three, get to know Johnson better with rapid fire questions. Learn about his very specific pregame rituals and his secret hobby. Also, what is the meaning behind his touchdown celebration?

"It’s kind of cocky but sometimes you have to have a little ego when you are playing football," Johnson said. 

Former Oregon QB Chris Miller to become Houston offensive coordinator in XFL

Former Oregon QB Chris Miller to become Houston offensive coordinator in XFL

Chris Miller is turning in the Friday night lights for the big leagues.  

The Oregon native (Sheldon High School, Eugene, OR) is packing up his Oregon roots and headed south to Houston, Texas as he has accepted the Offensive Coordinator position for the city’s XFL team. 

Miller started his high school football journey in small-town Eugene and continued his gridiron dreams just 2.7 miles down the road to Autzen Stadium where he went on to be the starting quarterback for the University of Oregon (1983-1986). He became a first round draft pick in the 1987 NFL Draft (Rd 1 / Pick 13 to the Atlanta Falcons) and had a 10-year career that was ultimately halted by concussions. 

Miller then dropped the helmet and turned it into a headset. He started as the coach of South Eugene High School (2001-2006 in Eugene, Oregon), before heading into the NFL to coach with the Arizona Cardinals (2009-2012). He then returned back to South Eugene high school coaching for one season before taking the head coaching position at West Linn high school (Portland, Oregon). 

Miller lead the Lions to a 6A state championship in 2016.

Miller was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. 

What is the XFL?

Get ready football fans, the XFL is coming to a TV near you in 2020. If your immediate reaction to this football league news is “yikes”, then you’re not alone as many are wondering why the reincarnation of the XFL was announced with the news of the AAF (American Alliance of Football) getting cancelled. 

But have no fear, the XFL existed before. It is an eight-team, 10-week regular season followed by a postseason league. The teams are Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C.

How does the XFL differ from the NFL? According to the XFL’s home website, “Faster, with more plays, less stall, fewer interruptions and no gimmicks.”