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Falcons Coach Has Honest Expectation For Marcus Mariota

Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota points to the sky while walking.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 13: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders takes the field before their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Allegiant Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

Marcus Mariota has a second chance in Atlanta.

The former No. 2 pick spent the last two years on the Las Vegas Raiders' bench after losing Tennessee's starting job to Ryan Tannehill in 2019. While he'll receive another starting opportunity, Mariota has the unenviable task of replacing a longtime franchise icon.

For the first time since 2007, the Falcons will begin the season with a starting quarterback other than Matt Ryan. Mariota has big shoes to fill with the 2016 MVP now playing for the Indianapolis Colts.

During Thursday's press conference, per Pro Football Talk's Myles Simmons, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said he doesn't want Mariota trying to emulate Ryan or anybody else.

"He’s his own guy. That’s what you like about certain players, but he’s authentic," Smith told reporters. "He is who he is. He doesn’t try to be anybody. We’re not asking him to come in here and be Matt Ryan or to be Peyton Manning. Be Marcus Mariota. That’s what we want."

Smith, who coached Mariota as the Titans' offensive coordinator, is excited to see how the 28-year-old responds to a new opportunity. 

"It’s been fun being around him again, not just as a player but as a person," Smith said. "He’s one of those people you enjoy being around, and he’s doing a good job right now with what we’re asking him to."

Mariota embarks on this fresh start for a team expected to finish among the NFL's worst. With star receiver Calvin Ridley suspended for the entire season, the quarterback will have a hard time replicating the 4,000-plus passing yard benchmark Ryan exceeded in 10 straight seasons before 2021.