First impressions of Malik Willis as the Tennessee Titans QB

Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

It is very hard for rookie quarterbacks to find success in the NFL and Tennessee Titans fans got to see why on Sunday.

After an ankle injury and an illness kept Ryan Tannehill from starting, the Titans named Malik Willis as the starter for their Week 8 matchup in Houston. After the dust settled, the Tennessee Titans are 5-2 and Willis has a win in his first start.

After the game, the story wasn’t about Willis it was about Derrick Henry having another transcendent day and a defense led by elite young talents.

That will happen in a game where the Titans only passed the ball 10 times including a second half where they only attempted one pass and it was incomplete.

If we are being completely honest, the moment looked too big for Malik Willis even in a game where he wasn’t asked to do much. He didn’t look especially dynamic when asked to run the ball and was indecisive when asked to pass.

The best microcosm of Malik’s day was the Tennessee Titans’ two-minute drive before halftime.

Tennessee didn’t seem to want to push the ball, but after back-to-back runs from Henry put them at the Titans 28 with two time-outs, they decided to see what they could do. Willis hit Woods on a nice pass for a first down then got up the field on a run for 6 more yards.

Then Willis fed Hilliard who took a short pass 12 yards to put the ball on Houston’s 44 yard-line. At that point, the Titans had 54 seconds and a timeout and only needed to get about 15 more yards for a decent shot at a field goal.

Derrick Henry had a nice 8-yard gain and then Willis threw the ball away on second down. On 3rd and 2, the Titans had time to try to get a first down or go for a long field goal on an incompletion. Unfortunately, Willis held on to the ball for too long and committed a big rookie mistake and took a sack that lost 7 yards.

At that point, the Tennessee Titans had to punt.

The Titans obviously ended up winning the game and more passes weren’t necessary because of the damage dealt by Derrick Henry and Dontrell Hilliard in the running game. This was the type of game that Tennessee wanted to play and they were never going to ask Willis to throw the ball 20+ times even if the Houston Texans were moving the ball on offense.

Knowing that, what can we learn about the rookie QB and the Tennessee Titans’ future?

What should Tennessee Titans fans take away from this game?

Malik Willis is a rookie and he still needs to figure out a lot of things. He needs to improve his internal clock when he is sitting in his pocket, he needs to make his reads quicker, and he needs to understand situational football better.

Having said that, this is exactly what reasonable fans/analysts expected Willis to be. He needs time and the jump from a Hugh Freeze offense at Liberty to an NFL offense based around the running game and play-action passes is a massive jump.

Aside from needing time to get comfortable in this offense, it is also an offense that doesn’t fit him. His entire career has been based around shot plays stretching out the field and allowing him space to run.

The Tennessee Titans were facing loaded boxes and asking receivers like Cody Hollister, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Chris Conley to win one-on-one matchups while asking Willis to stay calm in a pocket protected by Dennis Daley at left tackle.

Willis still has all of the potential that he has always had, but it is a good reminder that he is the future of the franchise and not the present. When he gets his start, there is a good chance that he will be doing so with different offensive linemen, receivers, tight ends, and a new offensive play caller.

Give Malik Willis time and be patient because as long as Ryan Tannehill is in Tennessee he is going to be the starting quarterback. That takes the pressure off of Willis for a year or two and he can learn the nuances of the NFL with urgency, but without taking the hits and putting up the bad film that happens to most young QBs.