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Willis and Levis Competing to be Tannehill’s Backup QB on the Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans have a competition for the job backing up quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The Titans started Malik Willis, the 86th pick overall taken in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft. Then Will Levis, the 33rd selection overall out of Kentucky in April, came in as they alternated every couple of series in their 23-17 preseason opening loss to Chicago.

Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said backup quarterbacks more often have to come in on a moment’s notice than having a week to prepare.

“Most of the time they’re going to have to come in off the bench and be ready to execute,” Vrabel said. “So that’s some of the things that we were trying to recreate.”

Willis finished 16 of 25 for 189 yards with one interception, while Levis was 9 of 14 for 85 yards and an interception. Both quarterbacks were sacked four times apiece.

The Titans couldn’t have drawn up a much better opening drive for Willis, the quarterback out of Liberty.
He drove the offense 80 yards over 12 plays and capped the possession by running for a 2-yard touchdown. After a turnover, Willis overthrew a pass that resulted in an interception.

Vrabel said both shared blame on the interception, with Willis likely wanting to throw the ball a bit lower and the receiver wanting to catch it. The play was a strong reminder of how lost points can hurt in the scheme of a game.

“That’s a play that needs to get executed,” Vrabel said.

The Titans got the ball right back when cornerback Tre Avery picked off a pass by Bears backup P.J. Walker, and they converted that turnover with Levis at quarterback. The Titans also had a bunch of starters watching from the sideline not in uniform. That group included Tannehill, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and running back Derrick Henry.

Vrabel said it was a lot of fun watching the game and the performance of assistant head coach Terrell Williams, who was acting as head coach for a 48-hour period.

“The most important thing was well deserved,” Vrabel said. “It was something that I absolutely should have done.”

The Titans practice Monday in Nashville before heading to Minnesota for a pair of joint practices with the Vikings ahead of their preseason game Saturday night. Vrabel isn’t tipping his hand about which quarterback will start but made clear he wants every healthy player to prepare to start.

Tennessee has led the NFL in each of the past two seasons in using the most players due to injuries. A combined 137 players have played for the Titans, with Chicago second, using 133.

Tannehill missed five starts last season, pushing Willis into three starts and eight games. Willis was more productive alternating with Levis against Chicago than as a rookie.

So, yes, quarterbacks in particular need to be ready at a moment’s notice.

“We want them all to prepare as a starter, be prepared to play the entire game,” Vrabel said.

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