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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans hope they got it right this time with Oregon's Marcus Mariota, their third try at landing a franchise quarterback in the past decade.
The Titans selected the Heisman Trophy winner No. 2 overall pick Thursday night after starting three quarterbacks last season, benching Jake Locker in October and replacing him with rookie Zach Mettenberger. But he lost his six starts, and the Titans couldn't afford to pass up Mariota with Charlie Whitehurst the only veteran quarterback on the roster.
General manager Ruston Webster said other teams offered "multiple" picks to move up to the No. 2 spot. The Titans refused to budge with four picks in the top 100, believing they drafted the quarterback that can turn around a team that went 2-14 in 2014.
"It was going to be difficult to convince us to back out," Webster said. "We had conversations with different teams, but nothing to the point of us not picking Marcus."
Mariota could start the season opener Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay against the top pick, Jameis Winston. Neither was at the NFL draft in Chicago on Thursday — Mariota, from Hawaii was in Honolulu with nearly 300 family and friends; Winston was in his hometown of Bessemer, Alabama.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said a quarterback picked second overall would be expected to start the season. And the coach known for working with pocket passers like Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner even says they started mixing in some spread plays into their offense weeks ago in anticipation of drafting Mariota.
"There are going to be some things he's had success with in college we'll incorporate in what we do," Whisenhunt said. "I don't think it's going to be that challenging. I'm excited about doing that. ... We'll see how it grows, what he can handle and how he can progress.
Mariota certainly has the size at 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds and plenty of success in college. He said he developed a close relationship with Whisenhunt and Webster in all their meetings leading up the draft as the Titans scrutinized the quarterback closely, and Mariota also said he's ready for whatever Whisenhunt asks him to do .
"I feel that I can go in there and learn as much as I can from someone who's done it at the highest level, and that's going to allow me to really just be the best player that I can be," Mariota said.
The quarterback position has been a revolving door at Tennessee.
The Titans drafted Vince Young at No. 3 overall in 2006 and Locker at No. 8 in 2011, and Young was the last quarterback to lead this team in yards passing in consecutive seasons, and that was 2006 and 2007. They have started eight different quarterbacks since trading away Steve McNair to Baltimore in 2006.
Webster said the only pressure in taking another quarterback this high is that the Titans want to win.
"It really has not a lot to do with the position, other than the fact that we're just trying to get better and win games and get this thing turned around," Webster said.
Tennessee needs an infusion of offense after ranking 29th in the NFL last season averaging 303.7 yards per game in Whisenhunt's first year. The Titans ranked 22nd with 213.3 yards passing per game, and Mariota was the humble leader of Oregon's high-flying offense for three seasons.
Mariota's ability to create plays with his arm and his legs took the Ducks to the brink of a national championship before falling short to Ohio State, finishing the season 13-2.
Along the way Mariota won every major award he qualified for, starting with the Heisman, as well as AP Player of the Year, the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
Mariota set a conference record for most touchdowns in a single season with 58; 42 via pass, 15 on the run and a touchdown catch. His passing touchdowns set a Pac-12 single-season record. He also set the conference's career mark for career touchdowns with 136.
He threw at least one touchdown pass in all 41 college games he played in at Oregon, starting every one of his appearances. And he's one of just four quarterbacks in FBS history to pass for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 in his career.
Mariota was known for his steady demeanor from the start. Off the field, he was shy and unassuming, but he stayed on the field following every game to shake hands and pose for pictures.
A three-star recruit for the Ducks out of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Mariota is fiercely proud of his island roots: His helmet facemask was designed to include the numbers 8-0-8 in a nod to the state's area code.
Mariota has already attracted several sponsors including Nike — co-founder Phil Knight is an Oregon alum — and more recently Subway and Beats By Dre.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report from Portland, Oregon, and AP freelance writer Kalani Takase contributed from Hawaii.
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