Gone At 2? Whisenhunt Talks Mariota

Mariota and Winston. Courtesy of USA Today

Mariota and Winston. Courtesy of USA Today

Phoenix, Ariz. — Ken Whisenhunt spent the better part of his morning answering questions about Marcus Mariota. Seated at a roundtable alongside reporters during the AFC coaches breakfast, the Titans head coach was peppered from all angles about his plans at quarterback, and whether they involve Chip Kelly’s former signal-caller.

We’re in the middle of misdirection season, so any comments from a coach or general manager regarding potential draft plans certainly can’t be taken as gospel. That said, Whisenhunt came off as genuinely impressed by what he’s seen out of Mariota to this point in the evaluation process.

“Very high,” he said when asked about the quarterback’s football IQ. “He has very good spatial memory. You say, what is spatial memory? He remembers plays, he remembers fronts, he remembers things in the short term and the long term. We were talking about an unbalanced set that USC ran against them three years ago. And he said, ‘Oh yeah, that was in this game at this time.’ Those are the kind of things that to me are important to that position. You have to have a memory that can see everything and remember it, because when it happens in a game you have to come over and communicate that on the sideline and then you have to have a plan for how you are going to adjust to it. That’s what the really successful ones do. He exhibits that type of quality.”

In order for the Eagles to have any chance to land Mariota, he must slip past the Titans at No. 2. And that still could happen. Whisenhunt had some nice things to say about Zach Mettenberger as well, and believes he showed some positive signs during his rookie season. He also knows that the organization is in a rare position – at the top of the draft with a chance to land a potential franchise quarterback – so they are being very thorough.

They have worked Mariota out and have spent time with him in the classroom, and seem happy with both his mental and physical capabilities.

“We gave him something [on the chalkboard], and he went right out on the field, took the terminology and was very comfortable with it – with no advanced preparation,” he said.

What about system fit? Does the fact that he is coming out of a spread, up-tempo attack make the evaluation process more difficult when projecting him to a pro-style offense?

“He exhibits a lot of the qualities that I think are important to the position in the NFL. He’s got good leadership, his team really gravitates towards him. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s accurate, he can extend the play, he processes things well. That’s really what you’re looking for,” Whisenhunt responded. “It’s not so much what [system] are you in, it’s really what you’ve done within that scheme and what your responsibilities were.”

Asked if he’d be open to trading out of the No. 2 spot for multiple picks, Whisenhunt responded: “At this point, I don’t know.

“We’re still not finished with the evaluation process with these quarterbacks. I think it’s really going to depend on where we end up feeling about these guys.”

* Perhaps the Titans will foil Kelly’s plan to land Mariota. There’s also a chance that Mariota is not part of the Eagles’ plans. The NFL Network asked Kelly if flipping Sam Bradford to get higher up in the draft is a possibility.

“When we make maneuvers, we make maneuvers because we want to acquire those players,” he said. “I think sometimes it makes for good bar room talk and things like that. But we’re very comfortable with where we are and we’ll attack the draft now. That’s what our next phase is. Free agency is really almost over in the next week or so, and then really focus and concentrate on what’s the best maneuver for us in the draft.”

* Reports indicate that the Browns have offered the 19th overall pick for Bradford. Head coach Mike Pettine was asked if his team was in fact in play. He did not issue a denial.

“There’s a lot of reports that get put out there,” he said. “[General manager Ray Farmer] made a lot of phone calls and to me that’s the job as an organization – you’re going to leave no stone unturned; you’re going to explore all of your options.”