Marcus Mariota

Injury Notes: Titans, Mariota, Falcons, McKinley, Colts, Doyle, Eagles, Ajayi

Marcus Mariota‘s injury remains a mystery. It hasn’t been disclosed exactly what he’s dealing with although it has reportedly caused him to lose some feeling in his hand. Blaine Gabbert started, and won, for the Titans last week, and it’s possible he’s asked to do so again this week against the Jaguars.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters that he would make the decision between Gabbert and Mariota within the next “24 hours” and that he would let them know then according to Jim Wyatt of the Titans’ official website (Twitter link). If Mariota can’t go it would be a huge blow for Tennessee against the league’s top defense. One thing that could make their matchup a bit easier is that Jalen Ramsey was added to the injury report Friday with an ankle injury, although it’s unclear if he’s in any danger of missing the game.

Here’s more injury updates from around the league:

  • The Falcons just can’t seem to catch a break. It was already known they’d be without Devonta Freeman and several other starters, but it was announced today that they’d also be without talented pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley. McKinley is currently dealing with a groin injury.
  • The Colts will be quite shorthanded for their trip to Philadelphia as the team ruled out tight end Jack Doyle, running back Marlon Mack, defensive tackle Denico Autry, and right tackle Anthony Castonzo. Doyle’s injury is a big blow, as he formed an effective tight end duo with Eric Ebron through the first two games.
  • The Eagles will also be significantly shorthanded on offense, with their backfield being particularly banged up. Running backs Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles have been ruled out, while Corey Clement is questionable. If Clement isn’t able to go, the running back situation would be dire. Alshon Jeffery is questionable, but reporters have written that he’s very unlikely to play.

Injury Notes: Wentz, Bosa, Mariota

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports that Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz could be cleared for contact this week, and that may put him on track to make his 2018 debut in Week 3, as was suggested last Sunday. But Rapoport says the team is in no rush to have Wentz return to game action, because it is more concerned about the next 10 to 15 years, not the next 10 to 15 minutes. As such, if the Eagles need to keep Wentz out longer to make sure he is fully recovered from his torn ACL and LCL, they are fully committed to doing so.

However, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports that Wentz is indeed on track to be back under center for the Eagles against the Colts next week, and he suggests that Philadelphia will have no issue in deploying Wentz as soon as he is cleared for contract.

Now let’s take a look at a few more reports concerning injuries to some of the league’s biggest names:

  • This is not much of a surprise given a report from earlier this week, but Schefter reports that Chargers DE Joey Bosa is expected to be sidelined until at least October. Bosa is continuing to rehab his foot with the hope that the swelling goes down and the foot stabilizes, but surgery is still very much in play if that does not happen.
  • Titans QB Marcus Mariota has not yet regained complete feeling in his fingers, per Rapoport (Twitter link). Schefter adds (via Twitter) that Mariota is still unable to grip the football normally as a result, which means that Blaine Gabbert may be starting under center for Tennessee for at least Week 2.
  • Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette is unlikely to play against the Patriots today, per Schefter, but it sounds as though Fournette is making good progress in his recovery from the hamstring injury he suffered last week. Even if the second-year back is unable to suit up today, he could be back in action next week.
  • Rapoport confirms (via Twitter) a report from Tuesday that Panthers TE Greg Olsen is hoping to return much sooner than was originally anticipated when he fractured his foot in the team’s season-opening win over the Cowboys. Rapoport says that Olsen hopes to be back on the field in four to five weeks, and he will have the foot — the same one he broke last year — reevaluated after the season.
  • We received a status update on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers earlier today.

AFC Injury Notes: Titans, Ben, Berry, Bolts

Marcus Mariota experienced difficulty gripping the ball after suffering a Week 1 elbow injury, but he could well return for the Titans this week. However, he doesn’t appear to be at full strength. Blaine Gabbert stands to see time as well as an apparent result. Mike Vrabel said he expects to use both of his quarterbacks against the Texans, via Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com (on Twitter). Mariota hasn’t made much progress since his injury in Tennessee’s opener and was still experiencing tingling in his throwing arm as of Wednesday, per Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com, making this an interesting situation for a Titans team with playoff aspirations. If Mariota fails to progress by Sunday, it wouldn’t be hard to envision the Titans sitting him. Gabbert filled in for an injury-ransacked Cardinals team last season, making five starts (including a 12-7 win over the Titans). He completed 11 of 22 passes in a loss to the Dolphins last week.

Here’s the latest on the AFC injury front heading into Week 2:

  • A higher-profile AFC passer does look to be in better shape going into Week 2. Ben Roethlisberger practiced fully on Friday, Mike Tomlin said (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter, on Twitter), pointing him toward being available in Sunday’s Steelers-Chiefs tilt. An elbow malady caused Big Ben to miss practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Joshua Dobbs would start against Kansas City if Pittsburgh’s franchise passer can’t go.
  • When Mariota and/or Gabbert take snaps Sunday, they’ll do so with second-string tackles. Jack Conklin won’t be ready to debut, and Taylor Lewan is out as well after suffering a concussion, McCormick notes.
  • Eric Berry‘s ninth NFL season remains on hold while he battles a heel ailment. The All-Pro Chiefs safety did not practice on Friday and is doubtful to suit up in western Pennsylvania on Sunday, per Andy Reid (via Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star, on Twitter). Berry’s battled this heel trouble, on the opposite foot of the torn Achilles he suffered in September 2017, for over a month.
  • As expected, Joey Bosa is out for the Chargers-Bills game Sunday. Right tackle Joe Barksdale won’t suit up, either, ESPN’s Eric Williams tweets. A knee injury’s affecting Barksdale. Sam Tevi is likely to start for the Bolts at right tackle. Second-year defensive end Isaac Rochell replaced Bosa as a starting defensive end last week.

Delanie Walker Expected To Miss Rest Of Season

Delanie Walker was carted off the field during the Titans’ loss to the Dolphins today, and it sounds like the tight end is set to miss the season. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that Walker suffered a dislocated ankle and an “associated fracture.” The reporter says the player’s “season is almost certainly over.”

A season-ending injury would certainly be a tough blow for the Titans, who were set to depend on Walker’s offensive production. The 34-year-old had been named to three straight Pro Bowls, and he finished the 2017 campaign with 74 receptions for 807 yards and three scores. The tight end had hauled in four receptions for 52 yards before suffering the injury.

If Walker indeed misses the entire season, the Titans will likely turn to 2017 third-round Jonnu Smith as a starter. The Titans are also rostering Luke Stocker and Anthony Firkser.

Walker wasn’t the only Titans player to suffer an injury on Sunday. Quarterback Marcus Mariota briefly returned to the contest after suffering an injury in the third quarter, but he ended up sitting out the remainder of the game. The injury was being described as an elbow/shoulder injury, and coach Mike Vrabel said the signal-caller would be reevaluated tomorrow.

“I just couldn’t feel my fingers, couldn’t feel my hand,” Mariota told TitansOnline.com. “It was one of those things where I couldn’t grip the ball and all that stuff.”

Meanwhile, left tackle Taylor Lewan was forced out of the game with a concussion after suffering a massive hit from defensive lineman Andre Branch. The hit sparked a brief fight as Lewan was lying motionless on the ground.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Titans, Mariota, Jets, Broncos

The Titans may landed the second-overall pick in the 2015 draft, but it sounds like the organization still drafted their desired prospect. Blake Beddingfield, the team’s former director of scouting, told Paul Kuharsky that preferring quarterback Marcus Mariota over top-overall pick Jameis Winston was “an easy choice at that time” (Twitter link). Ian Rapoport of NFL.com echoes that sentiment (via Twitter), saying the team’s infatuation with Mariota was why they refused to trade the pick.

Following a breakout campaign in 2016, Mariota took a bit of a step back in 2017. The 24-year-old ended up completing 62-percent of his passes for 3,232 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Winston had the edge in numbers (63.8 completion percentage, 3,504 yards, 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions), but his off-the-field conduct would seemingly give Mariota the edge when it comes to the duo’s long-term outlooks.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFL…

  • If the Jets hope to compete for a playoff spot next season, the team will need rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to step up and contribute right away, writes ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini. While head coach Todd Bowles favors experience, Darnold’s skills would surely boost the team’s ceiling. Cimini also points to wideout Robby Anderson, center Spencer Long, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, and defensive end Leonard Williams among those who will need to have standout seasons for a playoff-bound Jets squad.
  • Paxton Lynch has two more years left on his contract, and Mike Klis of 9News.com writes that the quarterback’s longterm outlook with the Broncos will depend on his performance next season. While the team is unlikely to pick up Lynch’s fifth-year option, Klis believes the team won’t end up dealing the former first-rounder. After all, Lynch would presumably have little trade value if he sits on the bench behind Case Keenum, and he’d likely be too valuable for the Broncos is he makes his way into the starting lineup.
  • Matt Miller of Bleacher Report hears that former Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal could end up being selected in the second or third round of the supplemental draft, with several AFC teams expressing interest (Twitter link). We heard earlier today that the highly-touted prospect was expected to be one of the two players selected (along with Virginia Tech cornerback Adonis Alexander) in the upcoming draft.

South Notes: Tepper, Mariota, Bucs

David Tepper may have been a minority owner of the Steelers before purchasing the Panthers for a league-record $2.275 billion, but he does not exactly fit the mold of your prototypical NFL owner. In a fascinating piece on the self-made billionaire, Kent Babb of the Washington Post describes how the enigmatic, unpolished Tepper could clash with the majority of the league’s straightlaced owners, and he wonders whether the league will ultimately change Tepper, or if Tepper might change the league. One way or another, Babb’s piece is worth a read.

Now for more from the league’s south divisions:

  • Despite some concerns that Titans QB Marcus Mariota could require a clean-up procedure on his knee this offseason, Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com says Mariota never had such a procedure and that he has looked like his usual self in spring practices thus far. Wyatt adds that, while Blaine Gabbert appears to be entrenched as Mariota’s backup going into the 2018 season, the team is more likely to keep Luke Falk as the No. 3 QB rather than risk sneaking him onto the practice squad.
  • The top four spots on the Buccaneers‘ WR depth chart are already spoken for, but Bobo Wilson, a 2017 UDFA who spent much of his rookie campaign on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, is making his case to stick around. As Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times writes, head coach Dirk Koetter has spoken highly of Wilson, who will compete for reps with 2018 fifth-rounder Justin Hunter. Wilson also has the ability to return kicks, which will certainly help his cause.
  • The Buccaneers traded a fourth- and sixth-round pick in this year’s draft to move up to the No. 94 overall selection, which they used to select Humboldt State OL Alex Cappa. Auman believes that Cappa may not be a starter right away, but that he will quickly push for a job as a regular on the offensive line (Twitter link).
  • Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune believes the Saints were wise to put a “ceiling price” on big-name free agents like Jimmy Graham and Ndamukong Suh this offseason, and he says the approach to Graham and Suh was emblematic of the team’s overall effort to rely more on young, cheap talent rather than high-priced veterans. That shift has been difficult because of New Orleans’ poor draft record in recent years, but while the Saints have a long way to go, Holder says they are moving in the right direction. Indeed, although the offense is heavy on expensive contracts, the defense is largely built on youth and thrift.
  • Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and GM Brian Gaine have specific physical characteristics in mind for every player they draft or sign, and they do not like to make exceptions to those parameters, as Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com writes. O’Brien’s and Gaine’s goal is to create a roster full of “big, strong, physical” players, and while their offseason acquisitions clearly reflect that philosophy, it is now incumbent upon O’Brien and his staff to mold his roster into a playoff contender.

Titans Pick Up Marcus Mariota’s Option

No surprise here, but the Titans will exercise Marcus Mariota‘s fifth-year option. Titans GM Jon Robinson confirmed the news in a radio interview on Wednesday (Twitter link via Paul Kuharsky).

The plan is over the next couple of days to exercise Marcus Mariota’s fifth-year option,” Robinson said in a press release. “He is an important part of this team, as are a lot of players. We’re excited to have him around here for the next couple of years and hopefully after the next season we can start to figure something out to keep him around him even longer.

Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, is coming off of another solid season in which he conducted four game-winning drives, the most of any QB in the NFL. Mariota’s numbers weren’t great overall (his 13:15 TD/INT ratio leaves much to be desired), but many of those missteps can be forgiven in light of the injuries he played through last year. Mariota went into the offseason dealing with hamstring, leg, and ankle issues and managed to miss just one start and played through the pain in both of Tennessee’s playoff contests.

In his playoff debut, Mariota led the Titans on a remarkable second half comeback to top the Chiefs in the Wild Card round. In the next round, the Patriots largely kept Mariota in check as he completed less than 60% of his passes and threw for only two touchdowns.

The fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only, so the Titans can escape the additional 2019 season in the event that his performance suffers for non-health reasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Fallout From Titans’ Mike Mularkey Firing

Mike Mularkey‘s season-ending press conference played a role in his firing. The Titans had announced their two-year head coach would be back in 2018 and given him a contract extension, but reversed course and fired him on Monday morning.

Jon Robinson said that decision was made Monday morning and added Mularkey’s comments Sunday played a role in this ouster (Twitter links via Jim Wyatt of Titans.com and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). Mularkey did not appear ready to make changes to his offensive staff, and it’s clear Robinson felt they were probably necessary.

Tennessee’s GM made clear Marcus Mariota‘s development will be the “highest priority,” per longtime NFL reporter Paul Kuharsky (Twitter link). Mariota regressed from 2016-17 despite steering the Titans to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons and giving the franchise its first postseason win since the 2003 campaign. The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick threw for a career-low 13 touchdown passes — after firing 26 in 2016 — and a career-high 15 interceptions. DeMarco Murray‘s yards-per-carry figure also plummeted by nearly a yard for a Titans offense that ranked 18th in DVOA.

While Robinson made it clear all of Mularkey’s assistants were under contract (Twitter link via Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com) it’s likely some (if not most) will be searching for new jobs soon. Kuharsky tweets Robinson and team president Steve Underwood informed Mularkey of his firing, not controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.

Mularkey’s stubbornness regarding tailoring his scheme to Mariota’s talents helped do him in as Titans HC, Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com writes. Mularkey wanted to bring back his offensive staff, Wolfe reports.

The Titans are planning to interview Mike Vrabel and Steve Wilks, and hiring a defensive coach would represent a first since Jeff Fisher. A Josh McDaniels pursuit may have broken down in part because of timing, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets.

Josh McDaniels Prefers Titans To Colts?

Josh McDaniels will be the next head coach of the Colts. Or maybe not. Josh McDaniels (vertical)

The Titans canned Mike Mularkey on Monday morning, opening up speculation that the Titans have their eye on another head coaching candidate. If that preferred candidate is McDaniels, then they could have a match. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (Twitter link), the belief prior to the Colts report was that McDaniels would prefer the Titans to all of the other available coaching jobs. McDaniels is high on Marcus Mariota‘s potential and also has concerns about Andrew Luck‘s health.

McDaniels may have had a verbal agreement with the Colts, but there’s nothing in writing as the Patriots’ season is still ongoing. Until then, there will be speculation surrounding a reunion between McDaniels and former Pats exec Jon Robinson,

South Notes: Colts, Mariota, Bucs, Saints

Sunday’s snow game in Buffalo may end up costing Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri a significant amount of money, as Mike Wells of ESPN.com writes. Vinatieri has a clause in his contract that calls for him to earn a $500K bonus for converting 90% of his field goal attempts this season. After missing two field goals in a near blizzard against the Bills, Vinatieri’s field goal percentage now sits at just 88%, down from 95.6% entering Week 15. As Wells details, Vinatieri will need to hit at least five-of-five attempts during Indianapolis’ remaining three games in order to hit 90% again and reach his incentive threshold. Vinatieri, 44, is earning $2.75MM in base salary this year, and will become a free agent next spring.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two South divisions:

  • Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with hamstring, leg, and ankle issues and could require surgery following the season, a source tells Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com. Mariota, who missed the tail end of the 2016 campaign after breaking his fibula, suffered a hamstring injury earlier this year, and the combination of those leg ailments are now affecting the Tennessee signal-caller. His recent performance is evidence of the problem, as Mariota hasn’t topped 200 yards passing in any of the Titans’ last three contests (while throwing for only two touchdowns against four interceptions). Tennessee still looks like a solid bet for a postseason berth — 81% per FiveThirtyEight — but the club could be held back by a hampered Mariota.
  • Although he initially feared he suffered a torn biceps in Week 14, Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wants to play out the rest of the season, reports Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. McCoy has torn his biceps two other times during his NFL career, but he believes he’ll be able to play through the pain this time around. The Buccaneers are evidently willing to let him do so in what has become a lost campaign, as the club made a transaction on Tuesday without putting McCoy on injured reserve. Despite Tampa Bay’s problems on defense, McCoy has been as stout as ever, as he grades as the league’s No. 5 interior defender, per Pro Football Focus.
  • Defensive end Alex Okafor would like to re-sign with the Saints following a 2017 season that was shortened by injury, as he explains to Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. Okafor, 26, inked one of the better one-year deals of the season, a $2MM pact that will allow him to hit free agency again in 2018. Before going down with a torn Achilles, Okafor had more than lived up to his contract, excelling against the run while also managing 4.5 sacks. He’d been a key contributor as New Orleans’ defense surprisingly improved from its awful 2016 standing.
  • The Colts should use their three remaining games to assess their young talent, argues Wells in a separate column. Now sitting with a 3-10 record, Indianapolis clearly isn’t in the playoff hunt, so the club can begin to see what kind of talent resides on the back end of its roster. One player who could conceivably see more time down the stretch is running back Marlon Mack, especially given that 34-year-old Frank Gore is coming off a 36-carry effort in Buffalo (and will now play on a short week).