Raiders QB Marcus Mariota provides ‘exclamation point’ for coach Jon Gruden’s expensive reclamation project

Luke Straub
·2 min read

When the Raiders signed former No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, quarterback Marcus Mariota in the offseason, the high-priced contract suggested he may get a chance to compete with QB Derek Carr for the starting spot.

But that scenario never materialized, thanks to the lack of preseason due to COVID-19, Mariota’s reportedly slow start in practice and Carr’s sharp play in his third year with Gruden. Suddenly, Mariota and his large contract seemed seriously out of whack as he lingered on the inactive list. Questions about the signing increased, as did the ridicule.

But a few weeks ago, Mariota won the backup spot and started suiting up on game day. And now, after Carr’s first-quarter groin injury in the Raiders’ 30-27 overtime loss to the Chargers and Mariota’s strong performance, Gruden finally has his reply as to why he signed the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Oregon.

“It shows the kind of player and the kind of football character he has,” Gruden told reporters about Mariota’s performance. “You lose Derek and then we change gears offensively and Marcus came in and did a great job. Really proud of him. I think that just kind of puts an exclamation point on why we signed him. I just wish we could’ve won the game for him.”

Mariota not only left the bench and nearly led the Raiders to victory, he did so using a style Gruden covets. The coach has been adamant since his return to the Raiders that he wants his QB to make mobile plays out the construct of the offense, and that’s Mariota’s specialty. On Thursday, though the Raiders lost, Gruden’s high-priced backup showed his worth, and possibly a glimpse of the future.

Whether it’s Carr or Mariota or someone else, Gruden wants a QB that can break from the pocket, and since Gruden has a 10-year contract, it’s just a matter of time before that happens on a regular basis in Las Vegas. But for the time being, the Raiders appear to have two good quarterbacks, which will help with Carr’s injury down the stretch run of the season, perhaps with more exclamation points to come.