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When the Tennessee Titans selected quarterback Will Levis in the draft’s second round, even trading up to do it, the aspiration was obviously to have him inherit the starting job from Ryan Tannehill next year because the veteran quarterback is unsigned after this season.
That intent kind of left Malik Willis on the margins.
But now we understand Willis has no intention of staying on the margins.
Levis and Willis are locked in a battle of Titans backup quarterbacks behind Tannehill.
And after the first few weeks of training camp practice and one preseason outing, it seems Willis has grown from being the seemingly overmatched quarterback he was as a rookie last season to a strong candidate as the No. 2.
“Definitely feel it’s different than last year,” Willis said after Tennessee’s first preseason game over the weekend. “Last year was my first time seeing all this stuff and now, after a whole year, seeing all the different types [of schemes] across the league and understanding what we’re tying to do on offense now, and what we’re expecting from each play, I think it’s been awesome to go do some real life stuff.”
Titans: Malik Willis Vs. Will Levis
That stuff in the preseason game against the Bears seemed to give Willis a small advantage over Levis against another team’s opposing defense.
Willis had the statistical advantage and led two scoring drives while Levis led one. Both young quarterbacks threw interceptions. And both showed they have room for much, much more improvement.
But Willis seemed to have an advantage in that he found ways to extend the defense on deeper throws that Levis wasn’t necessarily able to try consistently.
“Yeah, I thought that there was some composure,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “I thought that there were some opportunities for him to run. He ran and was able to do that. But he did a nice job when he did get out of the pocket, keeping his eyes down the field and was able to be a thrower when he felt like there was something there.”
Titans Will Levis Overcomes Nerves
Willis completed 16 of 25 passes for 189 yards. Levis completed 9 of 14 passes for 85 yards. Both threw an interception. Neither threw a TD. Both were sacked four times.
This should not suggest Levis was disappointing in his first NFL game. He simply doesn’t have that extra year of NFL experience Willis has. So Levis admitted he’s dealing with stuff, such as nerves, which he said he had to overcome for a couple of days.
“I think we did a pretty good job just operationally, getting in and out of the huddle, making sure we got the right IDs and looks,” Levis said. “Decision-making-wise, thought I did a decent job. At the end, I had a chance to win the game and kind of make a throw to win the game out there. It’s just a shame that didn’t happen, but we’re going to learn from it and make it better.”
At the end, Levis had a chance to make a 23-yard pass with 19 seconds left in Chicago territory. The pass was intercepted.
One play earlier, Levis was off target on another opportunity that could have gone for a score.
“It’s a throw I can make,” Levis insisted. “I know I can make that throw and if I put that on him, he can catch and run and it’s a different ballgame. And I’m feeling a lot better about myself right now.”
Malik Willis Focuses On Improvement
Vrabel, a defensive coach when he was an assistant, thought Levis taking easier, shorter completions was good. But the coach knows the big play has to connect when the opportunity arises.
“Being in a tough situation there, you’re only going to get one chance to hit a chunk play probably,” Vrabel said. “They came back and we didn’t hit it. And then, obviously that makes it even more difficult to come back and try to get it in there the next time.”
Vrabel has talked about the backup quarterback dynamic between Willis and Levis as being competitive but not combative. Willis, fighting for a job when the team drafted a player to replace him and Tannehill, has no problem with that.
But he is striving to make things competitive.
“It’s not like I’m here hating on folks,” he said. “I’m just going to try to get better. Focus on that.”