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Scout's Take: Titans' Malik Willis Lacks Pocket Awareness, But He Has to Make It

Scout's Take: Titans' Malik Willis Lacks Pocket Awareness, But He Has to Make It

By BLAKE BEDDINGFIELD, special correspondent
 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Malik Willis has shown improvements in his game but with the extended playtime over the past two weeks, he has also shown how much further he still must go to be a solid backup quarterback in the NFL.

Malik Willis
Malik Willis/ Courtesy Tennessee Titans

Willis has very good athletic ability, arm strength and a quick release, which are all very good traits for any level quarterback.
But Willis still lacks pocket awareness and patience in the pocket, he gets uncomfortable in the pocket and flushes himself even when the pass rush hasn’t dictated it. 

With his vision and coverage-reading ability, Willis missed a vertical go-route on his fourth pass of the game. Colton Dowell was open by two steps on the left side of the offense. On the same play, Chris Moore was open in the middle of the field. He didn’t attempt the throw to either receiver, instead, he flushed himself up in the pocket and to his right for a sack. The offensive line had great protection on that play.

The maturation continues.  

Best things I saw [Unlocked]

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Titans, Malik Willis Rout Starter-less Patriots in Preseason Finale

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans hammered the Patriots Friday night at Nissan Stadium, 23-7 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close and didn't feature a single New England starter.

And Malik Willis, vying to solidify the backup quarterback job, did some quality work along the way engineering a 368-yard effort that included 211 passing yards during which the Titans held the ball for 38 minutes and 38 seconds. 

Julius Chestnut
  Julius Chestnut scores/ Angie Flatt

He hit Julius Chestnut and Kearis Jackson with scoring passes.

He also, unfortunately, threw two interceptions, one a low attempt behind Josh Whyle that bounced off the tight end and caromed to linebacker Calvin Munson and another that hit Joe Giles-Harris in front of Mason Kinsey when it needed to go over the linebacker. It was an easy play for Giles-Harrison.

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Titans’ Ryan Tannehill Will Get Limited Work As Starter Against Patriots

Ryan TannehillNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ryan Tannehill, who's not played in the preseason since he took over as the Titans' starting quarterback, will see limited work Friday night in the team's preseason finale.

The team hasn't hesitated to sit him quarterback for preseason games in 2021, 2022 and for the first two weeks of 2023.

But the thinking has changed against the Patriots.

The Titans are running a new offense under new coordinator Tim Kelly and have a revamped offensive line and apparently want to give Tannehill a bit of work operating it against the New England.

Tannehill last played in the 2019 preseason, his first with Tennessee when he joined the team as Marcus Mariota's backup. He took over as the starter during the year.

Meanwhile, after missing the Titans' second preseason game in Minnesota due to a minor quad injury, Will Levis is doubtful. Jeremy Fowler reported Levis is not expected to play. I've learned he will warm up but is doubtful with a quad injury he suffered during joint practices in Minnesota that held him out of the second preseason game. [Unlocked]

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Titans Still Considering Playing Ryan Tannehill Friday Night

Ryan TannehillNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ryan Tannehill, who's not played in the preseason since he took over as the team's starter, could start for the Titans Friday night in their preseason finale.

The team hasn't hesitated to sit its starting quarterback for preseason games in 2021, 2022 and for the first two weeks of 2023.

But indications are the thinking may change against the Patriots.

The Titans are running a new offense under new coordinator Tim Kelly and have a revamped offensive line and may still want to give Tannehill a bit of work operating it against the Patriots.

Tannehill last played in the 2019 preseason, his first with Tennessee when he joined the team as Marcus Mariota's backup. He took over as the starter during the year.

Meanwhile, after missing the Titans' second preseason game in Minnesota due to a minor quad injury, Will Levis is doubtful. Jeremy Fowler reported Levis is not expected to play. I'm told he will warm up but is doubtful with a quad injury he suffered during joint practices in Minnesota that held him out of the second preseason game. [Unlocked]

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Podcast: Titans' DeAndre Hopkins Living Up to Billing So Far

The Paul Kuharsky PodcastNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- DeAndre Hopkins still has to do it when it counts, of course. But all indications through training camp are that he can and will.

In practices he's looked like the super-reliable, got-get-it receiver the Titans were hoping for when they landed him late, and with injuries to Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips that may limit the receiving roster at the start of the season, Hopkins will be even more important than we anticipated.

That's where we begin this week's edition of the podcast.

The new episode awaits you on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, iHeart and YouTube, which is also embedded below.

Other subjects I dive into:

💥 The kicker issue, what the division has done at the spot and what the franchise has done the last four years compared to the 26 before that.
💥 Teair Tart seems poised for a pass-rushing breakout and could make the front-four five deep.
💥 A Tyjae Spears prediction and a back-of-roster read.

It's all brought to you by Jasper's

The podcast is the front door to PaulKuharsky.com.

If you like what you hear or see here, you'd really love the rest of the site. Join the fun, now at 25 percent off.

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Heading Into Titans' Final Preseason Game, What Mike Herndon Thinks And What He Knows

Heading Into Titans' Final Preseason Game, What Mike Herndon Thinks And What He Knows

By MIKE HERNDON, columnist

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With two preseason games in the books and roster cuts just one week away, the regular season is suddenly right around the corner. With that comes the roster trim from 90 to 53, which must be complete by Tuesday, August 29th at 3 p.m. CT.

Tennessee Titans running back Tyjae Spears (32) leaps over the Minnesota Vikings defense to score a touchdown during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023.
Tyjae Spears/ © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Titans' 24-16 win in Minnesota featured a dominant run game from Tennessee and a strong defensive showing, a familiar formula for the franchise even if the players themselves were mostly unfamiliar. It’s dangerous to extrapolate too much from exhibition games, but there are a few things that I feel varying degrees of certainty about heading into Titans versus Patriots at Nissan Stadium on Friday night.

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For Titans Receiver/Punt Returner Mason Kinsey, It Feels Like Now Or Never

Mason KinseyNASHVILLE, Tenn. – It sure feels like it’s now or never for Mason Kinsey.

The receiver has spent the last two years on the Titans' practice squad, elevated for one game in 2021 and two in 2022.

He’s a steady practice player, in the right spot, usually making catches for whoever is throwing him the ball. Now Kyle Philips is down and may be out for as much as six weeks, and Kinsey is a slot guy in a similar mold. 

“I try not to count numbers or count guys who are going to be here and who’s not,” Kinsey said. “I don’t make the decisions on who makes the 53. All I can do is focus on putting my best foot forward, and just continuing to grow trust with the personnel and the coaches for when the time comes, if I have an opportunity to play you know I am ready and it’s also of course something I do want.

“It’s an exciting opportunity, it’s an opportunity to get some more reps, but also I’m praying for my boys Kyle and Treylon (Burks) and hoping for a speedy recovery for those guys.”

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Titans WR Kyle Philips Suffered MCL Injury In Minnesota

Kyle PhilipsNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kyle Philips suffered an MCL injury as he was taken down on a first-quarter punt return in Minnesota and the timetable for his return is in the range of six weeks.

His injury came just four days after Treylon Burks suffered what Ian Rapoport said is an LCL sprain in a joint practice with the Vikings. Outside medical people have estimated a four-to six-week recovery timetable for him.

The injuries mean the Titans very likely play at least their Sept. 10 opening-day game in New Orleans without two of their top three receivers. [Unlocked]

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