It's a refrain Mularkey has preached since he took over the Titans midway through the 2015 season. On Monday, Mularkey again cited his experience with Kordell Stewart running the ball during his days in Pittsburgh and brushed aside the notion that running Mariota puts the QB in harms way more often.
"My first time as a coordinator was in Pittsburgh with Kordell Stewart, and we were very good with him running the football," Mularkey told NBC Sports Radio, via Pro Football Talk. "Designed runs for the quarterback, and my feelings are he can protect himself much better running the football than he can standing in the pocket, and you've seen it over time. We're not going to run him like they run Cam Newton with some of these designed counter plays and things up the middle that are gonna expose him by any means, but I think he's such a threat in the run game for defenses. It just gives you an advantage. The playing surface is evened; they don't have an extra guy in the box. There is no extra guy when you have a quarterback like Marcus who can, and we saw it last year, go eighty yards if he has to, to be effective in the run game."
While it's true that quarterbacks are vulnerable in the pocket -- that is where Mariota suffered his knee injury in 2015 -- there is a balance between a quarterback taking on extra hits and utilizing his mobility. Newton is an outlier among quarterbacks, not one others should be compared to.
Mariota displayed as a rookie that he owns the accuracy, anticipation and acumen to be a pocket passer in the NFL. His rushing ability is a secondary weapon, which separates him from some mobile quarterbacks, like Colin Kaepernick.
Mariota utilizing his mobility as an advantage became more pronounced under Mularkey. In the quarterback's first five starts he ran 10 times. In six complete games after Mularkey took over, Mariota rushed 24 times, including a whopping nine versus the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13.
The Titans want to play faster in 2016, but with question marks in the backfield and at the receiver position, Mularkey needs to lean heavily on the second-year signal-caller to make plays. Getting Mariota's legs more involved is only a fraction of that equation.