NASHVILLE — Everyone inside the Tennessee Titans organization seems to agree that rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is the key to the franchise's future. As Mike Keith, the "Voice of the Titans," noted before Sunday night's 27-14 preseason victory over St. Louis, "Marcus just gets it. He gets the job of being a franchise quarterback."
And there were certainly moments when the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner fully looked the part against the Rams. Such as the first pass he threw, which covered 16 yards. Or his third toss, which went for 35. Or his fifth throw, which would have been a touchdown if Dexter McCluster hadn't dropped it.
Of course, those three passes in the opening period pretty much covered Mariota's night, since second-year Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt sent the second overall pick in this past spring's draft to the sideline for good following one possession in the second quarter.
But that's also where any serious discussion of the Titans' quarterback job could get interesting if Whisenhunt would allow it, because as good as Mariota was in the first period, second-year QB Zach Mettenberger was better in the second.
It was Mettenberger who entered the game with 8:58 to play in the second quarter and immediately began acting if he was playing Georgia during his final season at LSU. He hit Hakeem Nicks for a 40-yard completion on his first pass. His second throw was a short but surgically precise touchdown toss to Chase Coffman.
Three biological years older, an inch taller and two pounds heavier, Mettenberger started several games last year before an injury ended his rookie season. If not exactly possessing Mariota's fleet feet, Metty Ice does have the accurate arm that NFL general managers drool over, especially in a backup.
Not that a thoughtful argument for Mettenberger should only contain that touchdown drive. After all, Mariota would have posted a score if McCluster had held onto the ball.
But check out the cumulative stats of each man at halftime, when both were benched for the evening. Mariota finished 5 of 8 with a long completion of 35 yards and a respectable quarterback rating of 84.9. Mettenberger's numbers were 7 of 9 for 91 yards, a long completion of 40 yards, a touchdown and a QB rating of 145.8.
This doesn't mean that Mettenberger necessarily deserves to start. This was an exhibition, and not exactly against one of the NFL's better teams. Perhaps it's more prudent to leave Mariota as the starter, at least until the Titans have faced a better opponent, such as Kansas City this Friday on the road or Minnesota inside Nissan Stadium on Sept. 3.
Though neither of those teams is expected to make a deep playoff run, both are probably superior to St. Louis and would provide a more accurate assessment of Mariota and Mettenberger's disparate skill sets.
It also shouldn't be ignored that the Titans, at least publicly, seem quite happy with the rookie at the moment.
"There's grown men out here, and he's out here leading grown men and being a great leader, and I think that says a lot,'' said wideout Kendall Wright of Mariota on the team's website over the weekend.
"I think once we start the regular season and he gets these other preseason games out of the way, I think he'll be ready to roll. He's a rookie, he's young, but he is not carrying himself that way."
Whisenhunt long ago seemed determine to have Mariota and his fleet feet carry the offense, supposedly hopeful the same skills the quarterback exhibited in guiding Oregon to last year's national championship game could somehow return the Titans to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
And there's no reason to overly doubt that assumption after two exhibition games. Especially since Mariota displayed none of the jitters against the Rams that he was overcome with against the Falcons a week ago, when his first two series ended in an interception and a fumble by his own hands.
But that doesn't mean the Titans shouldn't consider a move to Mettenberger should Mariota stall more than star once the regular season begins.
To borrow the words of Keith, "That other guy (Mettenberger) is pretty good, too."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org