Marcus Mariota spent enough time on the bench to learn he'd like to again become a starting quarterback in the NFL.
He found such an opportunity in Atlanta, where Mariota signed to take over for the since-traded Matt Ryan. Mariota will play under the direction of a familiar face, coach Arthur Smith, and the lessons learned in the last few years haven't been lost on him as he begins his time with the Falcons.
"For me personally the last couple of years was a learning opportunity," Mariota said after Thursday's offseason workout, via the Associated Press. "Previously when I was at Tennessee I had an opportunity to play. I was a starter. Being around that and then going and learning for a couple of years, I'm kind of hungry to get back on the field again."
Getting back on the field also includes welcoming in a rookie quarterback, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, whom Atlanta selected in the third round of the 2022 draft. After Ryan Tannehill's initial comments regarding rookie Malik Willis caused a stir, similar questions were directed toward Mariota.
He didn't flinch, sticking to what he'd said ahead of the draft: should Atlanta select a quarterback, Mariota would "give as much advice and knowledge as I can."
"Absolutely," Mariota said Thursday when asked if he'd mentor Ridder. "I kind of always view that relationship in the quarterback room as important and special. I always felt that a good quarterback room can allow everybody to be better and allow everybody to grow. ... At the end of the day if they've got questions or I've got questions, they're a great set of eyes for me as well."
Collaboration appears to be the goal for Mariota and the Falcons, who are attempting to return Atlanta to contention in the franchise's second season under Smith. The coach is pleased with what he has in both Ridder and Mariota, adding he isn't asking the veteran to "be Matt Ryan or be Peyton Manning. Be Marcus Mariota."
He hopes the wisdom Mariota gained during his difficult conclusion with Tennessee and time spent as Derek Carr's backup in Las Vegas will propel Mariota in his new opportunity.
"Everybody, you get another shot at something and there are lessons learned and there are hard lessons," Smith said. "You take something the right way and you're more appreciative of the opportunity. ... It's been fun being around him again, not just as a player but as a person."
It seems Smith values Mariota for who he is as much as what he can do on the field. With this in mind, it's no surprise to hear Mariota is open to helping Ridder. We'll see if it translates into success in 2022 and beyond.