The Tennessee Titans are in a bit of transition with their team. After being the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed and getting upset in the playoffs last season, the team traded stalwart wide receiver AJ Brown to the Eagles. They also drafted Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis in the third round.
The multi-faceted Willis has tremendous upside and was taken with the belief he’d be the backup to starter Ryan Tannehill until he’s ready to assume the starting QB role. The 34-year-old Tannehill let it be known he was in no hurry to help mentor Willis to take his position. So Tannehill has plans of leading that team for years to come.
However, Willis’ rise may come much sooner than predicted, as the Titans are 0-2 following an embarrassing Monday Night Football loss 41-7 at the Buffalo Bills.
Willis entered the game after Tannehill tossed two interceptions. While Tannehill is serviceable, he just doesn’t move the meter like Willis who brings that dual-threat ability with a much stronger arm. Head coach Mike Vrabel probably isn’t ready to make young Willis the starter just yet. He’s still very green, but the Titans should see what they have in the talented quarterback, because Ryan Tannehill is on the decline.
In limited action, Willis completed 1 of 4 passes for 6 yards and rushed for 16 yards. The game was well out of reach by the time Willis got to touch the pigskin. It may not indicate an immediate QB switch in the near future, but yanking Tannehill does suggest that the Titans have a shorter leash on Tannehill at the helm.
In August, Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing talked about Willis’ development and what he expects.
“Naturally, there’s going to be a learning curve. He is a very gifted thrower that has great ball speed and has an accurate ball. There are probably times when he got away with things collegiately that he’s not going to be able to get away with in the pros. Tying his feet to his progressions and helping the timing, there will be a major step in the process. He’s made strides and realizing that he can trust the process.”
Malik WHEELlis 💨 @malikwillis
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) August 21, 2022
Vrabel Critiqued Willis Pretty Hard In The Preseason
During the preseason Willis flashed, but he also got called out and benched by his coach for not throwing the football to open receivers. In his preseason debut, Vrabel pulled Willis for not throwing enough, saying this about his QB.
“I wanted him to throw the balls. He didn’t, so we put in Logan.”
Titans rookie Malik Willis was balling out last night. 💪
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 12, 2022
But one thing Vrabel couldn’t deny was Willis showed some real juice. The kid has a smile that lights up a room and a confidence that he can make any play on the field. Vrabel isn’t viewed as one who panics, and in the AFC South being 0-2 isn’t a situation where you have to make a sudden decision to go with Willis. The division is still very winnable and with Derrick Henry as the bell cow of the offense you have to like the Titans’ chances to turn it around.
Willis’ Athleticism And Arm Talent Could Help Henry And The Run Game
While it’s farfetched that Vrabel starts Willis going forward, there are things that he does that can help the Titans offense. And those things are also things that the veteran Tannehill just can’t. The ability to play off-schedule and make plays when things break down is a dynamic element Willis brings to the offense. He has a hose for an arm and can throw the deep ball with accuracy and touch off the play-action that’s enhanced by Henry’s threat to run.
But the biggest skill Willis would bring is being carefree and just playing without overthinking. That can be a real confidence-booster for a team that’s struggling.
The 23-year-old is an infusion of youth that can help diversify and bring some electricity to an otherwise stagnant Titans offense.
Tannehill isn’t the long-term answer in Tennessee. That’s why they drafted Willis. So why not just play the kid and see what he can do?
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