Final Thoughts On Titans' Offseason Start With Will Levis And Malik Willis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A lot of the team’s most high-profile veterans, and some a notch below that, were already gone. But the Titans concluded their OTA practices and turned into their long summer vacation Wednesday, with two more weeks for the rookies remaining.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis (7) runs a drill during an OTA practice at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, June 14, 2023.
Malik Willis/ © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Here’s my wrap with collective themes, thoughts and notes from the OTA and minicamp practices the media saw and the conversations we had.

Young quarterbacks: Will Levis had a bad period during which he threw two interceptions, one to

Elijah Molden and one on a ball that was batted at the line. After that Malik Willis did pretty good work in the red zone, throwing a couple of touchdown passes, one to Kinsey.

Those are just two periods and no one should make much out of two periods.

The overall gap between Levis and Willis in what we’ve seen so far has not been significant. I wouldn’t make a lot of that either. And it really isn’t going to matter.

Levis is going to be the second quarterback behind Tannehill barring injuries. He does need a moment to arrive in camp, however, that allows Vrabel, Tim Kelly and Charles London to flip him into that second position on merit rather than on draft status, potential and planning. Since neither of the two has been great so far so they maintain the status quo as the coaches can’t simply anoint a guy who’s not outplayed the guy ahead of him.

So Levis will have to uncomplicate that.

Sure, Willis has played better than he did as a rookie, but that’s an awfully low bar. There are still moments of indecision, slow decisions that are frustrating. But he is processing faster, you just wonder if that will translate to a game situation.

Levis is going through a lot of typical rookie stuff and has to polish out rough spots that were on his resume when he arrived. I didn’t think those would go away in a matter of six weeks. But he needs to show better decision-making, anticipation and touch.

The hope would be he returns with some progress made in time away and then finds a steadier incline.

One example: Titans’ quarterbacks threw go-routes to receivers early in practice for the second time recently, and for the second time recently the three quarterbacks did not calibrate things particularly well. Levis was probably the most off-target.

“I think it’s getting on the same page,” Ryan Tannehill said. “It’s something we don’t do a lot of, especially the first balls to a moving receiver, running a go-ball. It doesn’t always come out perfectly. We had some versions of a read route where the angle is going to be dependent on the coverage. One of them I didn’t do a good job of explaining the full look to Chris (Moore), just being on the same page there.

“But we’re growing through that. I think those got better as we got a little settled in there on the first couple and we’re seeing some good balls and some good catches.”

Crucial time: Vrabel refers the time from now to July 25 as crucial for players. Failure to do the sort of independent conditioning that replicates what they will be asked to do when they return could have serious consequences.

The position-by-position individual period was extended as those coaches spent extra time with their players showing off the sort of drills that can be replicated alone.

“We ask every player that you train the way that you’re going to play,” he said. “When you play a skill position, you have to run, you have to go and open up, you have. To change direction and it’s not five yards, it’s whenever you have to cut. So there’s reactionary movements.

D-linemen, there are certain things that are going to be in the job description – that’s why we do the drills that we do, that;’s why we practice the way that we practice – because we want to practice the same way that we play. To finish, to try to go get an extra block and protect the guys with the ball and all those things that we think help us win. That’s the most important thing, is that you are thinking in a manner than you are going to train like you are going to play.”

First: Credit to Mason Kinsey for stepping up and making the most of his opportunity, showing he knows what to do and is unafraid to go first in receiver drills. But this remains a pet peeve of mine. A fringe roster guy shouldn’t be at the head of the line for his position group.

Treylon Burks was one of several noteworthy veterans missing from the voluntary session Wednesday, but even when he was, Kinsey was generally the lead guy.

Kyle Philips, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (also not present) and even Moore, who should be settled in now, should take more initiative.

I wrote about this last year: How the Titans line up before they really line up.

DeAndre Hopkins: Tannehill was not shy about talking about his interaction with Hopkins during the receiver's recent visit with the Titans.

Another new safety: Elijah Molden isn’t the only cornerback getting some work at safety for the Titans. Scott Booker told me Shyheim Carter is also doing some work there.

No more kicking specialist: James Wilhoit was not a full-time coach with the Titans, but in 2021 and 2022 he worked with the kickers. He’s not back in that role this year. Mike Vrabel has Tom Quinn and Anthony Levine as special teams assistants working with Craig Aukerman.

Quinn was with the Giants for 16 years, 11 of them as special teams coordinator while Levine was a coaching and scouting assistant for the Ravens for two years after a 10-year playing career.

Fulton: We talked to Kristian Fulton for the first time this offseason. I did a separate piece on him.

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