Is Jason Michael the right guy to help Mariota elevate to the next tier?
Current quarterbacks coach Jason Michael has been coaching since 2003 at various levels, from collegiate to pro. How successful has he been in his roles?
Vols Graduate Assistant
His coaching started in Tennessee with the Vols, led by then head coach Phillip Fulmer. He was a graduate assistant that spent two years working the secondary and special teams units. He was apart of two 10-3 season, two bowl appearances (the Peach Bowl and Cotton Bowl), winning the later in 2004.
How instrumental Michael was in his responsibilities is debatable, but did earn an NFL job in 2005.
Quality Control Coordinator
What are a quality control coordinator duties? Primarily, this person spends countless hours buried in film, getting the scout team prepared, familiarizing themselves with upcoming opponents strategies/tactics and developing a plan for the scout team to run against the starting units to help provide inside on tendencies the opposition may incorporate.
Michael spent a season in Oakland as a quality control coordinator under Norv Turner. The Raiders finished last in the AFC West and only managed to accrue four wins on the year.
After one season with the Raiders, Michael took the job as the New York Jets quality control coordinator, but would also receive his first shot as a quarterback coach. This is where it gets interesting.
Michael had Chad Pennington that season. Under head coach Eric Mangini, the Jets managed to make the post season as the fifth seed, losing in the wild card round to New England.
Pennington threw the most interceptions of his career with 16, was sacked the most times in his career with 30 and had the most fumbles in his career with four. He had just 17 touchdowns on the season. He had the most pass attempts of his career with 485, fourth best completion percentage of 64.5% and threw for 3,352 yards – the second highest passing yards in his career.
What stands out? The interceptions.
Tight Ends Coach
Michael assumed the role of the Jets tight ends coach in 2007 and was responsible for the development of Chris Baker and Sean Ryan.
Baker had his best statistical season of his career under Michael, tallying up 409 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan was primarily Baker’s back up.
Vols Tight Ends Coach
Michael went back into the college circuit in 2008. He was responsible for the development of recently acquired Titan Luke Stocker during his time with the Tennessee Vols.
This would be the final season of a Fulmer led Vols team. Tennessee finished 5-7.
Michael left Tennessee for the Bay. He joined the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff as an offensive assistant.
The 49ers missed the postseason in 2009, finishing second in the NFC West behind Arizona. Alex Smith took over the 49ers starting quarterback position in week 7, and helped the team finish at 8-8. The offense had some offensive firepower – Frank Gore, veteran Isaac Bruce, rookie Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.
The 49ers offense seemed promising heading into the 2010 season. Michael remained offensive assistant but also was responsible for quarterbacks. Smith threw the second most interceptions of his career since his sophomore season. He threw 12 picks in 2009, 11 in 2010. The only other season Smith threw double-digit picks were his rookie and sophomore seasons, with 11 and 16 respectively.
It should be noted Walker only has two seasons of no touchdown receptions, from 2009-2010.
Back to Tight Ends
Michael stayed out west, joining the San Diego Charger coaching staff. He returned to a familiar role of coaching the tight ends.
It’s fair to say Michael wasn’t instrumental in the production Antonio Gates had during his tenure as tight ends coach with the Chargers. Gates had already recorded a pair of thousand yard seasons and three near a thousand yards season, producing over 900 receiving yards.
Michael helped guide Ladarius Green to a decent season as a backup tight end in 2013. Green scored three touchdowns, the second highest of his career.
The Chargers managed to make the playoffs in the final season Michael was on the staff. San Diego won a playoff game, but lost to the Broncos in the division round.
Titans Offensive Coordinator
Michael has been with the Titans since 2014. He was brought in by Ken Whisenhunt to be the offensive coordinator.
The Titans finished the 2014 season ranked 29th in total offense, 30th in total points and 30th in points per game. Tennessee ranked 11th in interceptions, 23rd in passing touchdowns and 6th in sacks allowed.
In 2015, Tennessee finished 30th in total offense, 28th in points and 28th in points per game. The Titans ranked 26th in passing offense, 18th in passing touchdowns, 9th in interceptions and 1st in sacks allowed. In a season where adding Mariota was supposed to make the offense better, it actually became worse.
Michael was kept on the staff in 2016, surviving longer than the guy who brought him in, Whisenhunt. He was demoted from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach.
The Titans offense finished 2016 ranked 11th in the league, but this primarily had to do with the success of the running game. Tennessee finished 25th in passing offense, 8th in passing touchdowns, 21st in interceptions and 26th in sacks allowed. Mariota’s success throwing the ball in the red zone contributed to Tennessee being a top 10 team in passing touchdowns.
What a difference a year makes.
The Titans haven’t lived up to the preseason hype. In a year they were expected to compete for the conference championship due to the influx of weapons added, the team has fallen short. However, the team remains in contention for a playoff berth and an opportunity to correct the ship.
Tennessee has been kept in contention by the defensive play, which has come to surprise many who felt the offense would take this team to the next level. Nobody anticipated the offensive line play to regress as much as it has. No one anticipated the running game would be stuck in the mud for most of the season. Hardly anyone expected Mariota to have his worst statistical season as a football player.
Nevertheless, the Titans remain in the hunt.
Tennessee ranks 21st in total offense with only three games remaining. The Titans 27th ranked passing attack has been lackluster, and much of the blame is shared between the coaches and players.
The Titans sit 4th in interceptions, behind three teams not expected to make the post season in Cleveland, Denver and Miami. Tennessee ranks 30th in the league in passing touchdowns, ahead of only the 49ers and the Colts.
For Titans fans, this is tough to swallow. Many fingers point to offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie as being the reason for the regression. Although Robiskie does deserve his share of the blame, Michael may deserve a little more.
Is Michael to Blame for Mariota’s struggles?
Mariota has been very outspoken in blaming himself for the teams struggles offensively. Does he deserve some blame? Absolutely. Does he deserve the majority of the blame? Absolutely not.
Robiskie’s offense success is paramount on the run game churning and burning. If the running game is stagnant, the offense as a whole is stagnant. Mariota would thrive in the offense if the running game was as efficient as it was last season. This year, the running game and the offensive line hasn’t replicated the success. Robiskie has to see that and figure out a new plan of attack.
Michael, however, deserves a hefty lump of the blame. He is responsible for Mariota’s progress, but is also accountable for lack of progress. Like Derek Carr has displayed, coming back from an injury will derail an athletes development and progress. Michael is primarily responsible for ensuring the drop off isn’t a drastic one.
So far, it’s been just that.
As illustrated above, Michael’s most success didn’t come with quarterbacks, but with tight ends. When he was in charge of quarterbacks, those under his tutelage had some of the worst seasons of their careers. That is exactly what we are seeing with Marcus Mariota.
Matt Cassel’s role with the team has been questioned due to the gap in ability to serve as Mariota’s backup. Two completely different skill sets make his roster spot puzzling to the naked eye. However, deeper insight shows his role on the team is to mentor Mariota in areas where Michael may lack knowledge. If Cassel isn’t on the team, it could be argued the Titans franchise quarterback may be in worse shape than he is now.
Somebody has to do something. Michael isn’t the right guy to help Mariota develop into the franchise quarterback he could be. His track record proves it.
The Titans need to find the right guy to fill that role while Mariota is still young enough to be unbroken.
Stats referenced at NFL.com and ESPN.com
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