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Willis makes progress for Titans
Malik Willis.jpg
Photo courtesy TitansOnline.com Titans rookie Malik Willis is looking to make a splash at quarterback.

by Jim Wyatt

Quarterback Malik Willis arrived at Titans rookie minicamp back in May bright-eyed and ready to go.

But the team’s third-round pick from Liberty University knew he had plenty of work to do.

His coaches also knew he’d make progress if he put the time in.

“They told me I would,” Willis said with a smile after practice on Tuesday. “(Coach) told me to set an alert on my calendar. He’s like: First day of training camp and see where I’d be from the time rookie camp started. He was right, I’m light years ahead.”

After OTAs and minicamp in May and June and now six days of training camp practices, Willis feels like he’s making strides with the Titans.

But he knows he has a long way to go as he works behind veteran quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Logan Woodside.

“I’m light years ahead of where I was, but that’s just from my coaches and dedicating my time to study the situation,” Willis said. “That’s everything regarding my job description – operating the huddle, operating the line of scrimmage, all the plays and being comfortable with them. All of the above.

“I’ve learned the importance of timing, and how it affects the whole play.”

Willis, taken with the 86th overall pick in the third round, was a star at Liberty.

In 2021, Willis accounted for 65.9 percent of Liberty’s total offensive yards (Team Yards: 5,671/Willis: 3,736). He completed 207-of-339 passing attempts for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns and he was also Liberty’s leading rusher, having carried the ball 197 times for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He broke his own single-season school record with 40 total touchdowns (27 passing, 13 rushing).

In the NFL, he’s still finding his way.

Offensive coordinator Todd Downing on Tuesday spoke about Willis, from his strides to what he needs to keep focusing on in an effort to get better.

“He’s so physically gifted,” Downing said of Willis, “and I think sometimes when you have those tools you can get away with things at the collegiate level, and I think he is starting to find out some of those tight-window throws, or if you’re a little bit late on something, you can’t necessarily just make up for it with ball speed. The DBs are going to close that window a little bit faster.

“So, there’s a development there, right? And there’s a dependency on physical tools that sometimes needs to progress to more of the footwork and listening to your feet and letting your feet redirect your eyes and those kinds of things. But Malik is on a good trajectory. He’s had some learning experiences out there, but he’s a great kid with high character who comes in and wants to know the why and wants to understand what occurred with the mistakes. I’m excited about where he’s at.”

In practices, Willis has had his share of good throws. His arm is a live one.

But timing has also been an issue, which has resulted in some errant throws, and in Willis taking off and running on some plays because the window of opportunity had passed.

Willis showed off his strong right arm with some bullets in Tuesday’s session – strikes to receivers Josh Malone and Terry Godwin in a team period. But Willis also threw low to open receiver Treylon Burks, and he misfired on a deep ball downfield later. Willis mishandled a snap at another point before regaining full possession and continuing the play.

Willis said he’s enjoying the opportunities and the process.

Willis said, “I feel like this definitely something different, but football is football at the end of the day and my coaches are making it really easy just to focus on what I need to focus on and let me go out there and play and have fun. You just have to be thankful for the opportunity, and whenever you get it you have to take advantage of it.

“It’s football at the end of the day. It’s just: How willing are you to work at it and understand new terminology and new concepts and going against the best players in the world?”