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Titans Mariota, Chiefs rookies to reunite in preseason
Mariota reunites with old teammates. - photo by AP Photo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is looking forward to a Pac-12 reunion when Tennessee travels to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs tonight.

The Heisman Trophy-winning rookie played against three of the Chiefs’ draft picks during his standout career at Oregon. Two of them, cornerback Steven Nelson and linebacker D.J. Alexander, played for bitter rival Oregon State, while cornerback Marcus Peters played at Washington.

“It’ll be good to see those guys again,” said Mariota, the second overall pick in the draft. “Over time, you kind of get to know people.”

In the case of Nelson, it’s an intimate knowledge.

Their teams were meeting in the final week of the 2013 season in the game dubbed “the Civil War,” and Mariota threw two of the 14 interceptions in his three-year career. One of them landed in the hands of Nelson, who had jumped a route run by a tight end.

Mariota got the final bragging rights, though. He threw a touchdown pass to Josh Huff with 29 seconds left to give the Ducks a 36-35 victory at Autzen Stadium.

Last year, Mariota had one of the finest games of his career against Oregon State. He threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns while running for two more scores in a 47-19 rout of Alexander, Nelson and the rest of the Beavers. Oregon went on to beat Arizona for the Pac-12 title, Florida State in the Rose Bowl and then lost to Ohio State in the national championship.

“I guess it’ll be fun, just to see how much he’s grown since he’s been in the NFL,” said Nelson, who also recalled dropping an interception of Mariota when the teams met last year. “We’ll see how he compares now to what I’ve seen in college.”

Reunions aside, it will also be another good test for the trio of Chiefs rookies.

Peters has proven to be a dynamic playmaker in training camp, validating the first-round pick that the Chiefs lavished on him. He was kicked out of Washington after a series of run-ins with the new coaching staff, but has been a model student since he arrived in Kansas City.

Good thing, too. The Chiefs are preparing to play without top cornerback Sean Smith for the first three weeks of the season after he was suspended for a drunken driving arrest.

That means Peters could be starting Week 1 against Houston.

“It’s like a little brother out there,” Smith said. “For these two young guys coming in, Marcus and Steve, guys are willing to learn and they’re so hungry to get out there. I’m like, ‘You don’t have a choice. You have to get out there now.’ They’re stepping up to the challenge.”

Peters has even gotten on the nerves of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, albeit in a good way. Reid tends to focus on the offense in practice, so he’s been seeing a little too much of No. 22.

“The biggest challenge any young guy has is that laser focus, play after play after play,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He’s improved some of the things we’re trying to get him to work on, and as long as he takes that kind of attitude, he’s got a big upside.”

Alexander was a fifth-round pick who has been slowed by a high ankle sprain in training camp, but the Chiefs like his versatility on defense and his ability to play special teams.

Then there is Nelson, who is a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 for a cornerback in the Chiefs defense. But what he lacks in height he makes up for in quickness and instincts.

Not to mention moxie.

“He’s got a lot of the qualities you look for in a nickel. He’s got really good strength in there, quickness. I think he’s going to be a good blitzer as well,” Sutton said. “He’s a really competitive guy. I just love his competitiveness.”

Mariota got a chance to see it firsthand the past couple of seasons. He’ll get another chance in their teams’ third preseason game Friday night.

“It will be good to go against him again,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the matchup.