Titans QB Malik Willis keeps same approach despite Will Levis’ arrival

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With Will Levis in the picture for the TitansMalik Willis‘ approach hasn’t changed. 

“Go to work the same way. It don’t matter,” Willis told reporters Tuesday at OTAs. “It’s the same amount of competition. You’re competing against yourself every day. You don’t go competing against guys. You don’t go looking over your shoulder. Just try to get better.”

Willis’ status with Tennessee is uncertain at best entering 2023. The team traded up eight spots in the second round of this year’s draft to select Levis, an indication that the Titans believe he could be their quarterback of the future. Veteran starter Ryan Tannehill, who turns 35 in July, is entering the last year of his contract. 

Then there’s Willis, a 2022 third-round pick out of Liberty, who struggled as a rookie in his eight appearances, including three starts. He didn’t throw for 100 yards or a touchdown in any of the appearances. In the Titans’ pivotal Week 18 game last season against the Jaguars, which determined the AFC South champion, Willis was passed over at quarterback in favor of Josh Dobbs, who had joined the team eight days prior, with Tannehill on injured reserve. 

Willis finished his rookie season completing just 50.8% of his passes for 276 yards and zero touchdowns with three interceptions, plus 27 carries for 123 yards and a score. 

All of this has fueled speculation about his chances of making the 53-man roster. Under Mike Vrabel, the Titans haven’t typically carried three quarterbacks. Levis is going to be on the team, and Tannehill is the current starter. 

By all accounts, Willis has done everything asked of him by the team. 

Vrabel said that he wanted Willis to come into his second season carrying himself as an NFL quarterback. There’s a certain demeanor and leadership attribute NFL QBs have, Vrabel explained. It’s not just about delivering the football. 

“He came back and he was into it,” Vrabel said. “There was certainly a bounce to him. He’s continued to do that. Just early on in the evaluation process, but that’s what he’s done.” 

New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said Willis has put in extra work studying the playbook and defensive coverages.

“He’s got such a unique skill set,” Kelly said. “When he’s out there and he’s playing fast, you can really see those traits flourish.” 

Tight end Chig Okonkwo, a fellow member of the Titans’ 2022 draft class, has noticed improvement in Willis, too. 

“He seems a lot more confident in the huddle, especially when he’s calling the plays,” Okonkwo said. “With his reads, he’s a lot more decisive. The ball still jumps out of his hand. He still has a great arm. I feel like he’s gotten really, really accurate with his throws.”

Tennessee’s challenge: splitting reps between the three quarterbacks. That means giving Tannehill the time he needs to build rapport with his receivers and a remade offensive line as the current starter — but also making sure that Willis and Levis, the young quarterbacks vying to be his successor, have adequate opportunities to properly develop. 

Right now, it’s too early to tell how it will all shake out. In the Titans’ building, it’s understood that there will be competition at every position. 

“That’s what we have to do as an organization,” Vrabel said. “I think at each position, they kind of figure that out. … When it’s their opportunity to have a rep or have an opportunity, everybody else is encouraging them and also still trying to compete with them. I don’t think that’s ever been an issue.

“We’re going to evaluate them each and every day and continue to coach them,” Vrabel added. “We have a long process ahead.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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