Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said rookie quarterback Malik Willis has room for improvement as a passer after Thursday's 23-10 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Willis made some highlight-reel plays with his legs in his debut, including a seven-yard touchdown run, but he completed a modest six of his 11 throws for 107 yards and no touchdowns. He was also sacked twice.
"He needs to try to throw the ball when guys are open, be more decisive," Vrabel told reporters. "We'll evaluate that, see if there's a timing issue or what's going on. Wanted to get him out there, see how he responds. There were some good plays and obviously some plays we're gonna have to look at the timing on the release and if we're making the right decisions."
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Willis' progression is in the spotlight because of the slide he suffered during the 2022 NFL draft. Once viewed as a possible early first-round selection, he slid to the Titans with the No. 86 overall pick in the third round.
After starting his college career at Auburn, he transferred to Liberty ahead of the 2020 season for a shot at more playing time.
He starred for the Flames, tallying 74 total touchdowns (47 passing and 27 rushing) across 23 appearances, albeit against lesser competition than he would have faced in the SEC.
While Willis fits the mold of a modern quarterback with the arm strength to make a variety of throws and the ability to make key plays with his legs, the biggest question mark was how quickly he'd learn to read and take advantage of weaknesses in NFL defenses.
It's only one preseason game, but Vrabel's comments make it clear the coaching staff believes that area remains very much a work in progress.
Willis agreed with his coach's assessment, saying he's got "a lot to look at on film" after his first NFL outing.
"I should have done better," Willis said. "Like I said, it's a learning experience and you have to take it for what it is. It's preseason, but it's an opportunity at the same time, so I'm just going to try and continue to work and watch through the film and just keep on going."
Ryan Tannehill is locked in as the Titans' starter for 2022, so there isn't immediate time pressure on the 23-year-old Atlanta native, but the coaching staff would probably still like to see some tangible progress throughout the preseason.
Barring injuries, Willis may not see another meaningful in-game snap until 2023 after the exhibition slate ends, so this is his chance to take advantage of some expansive playing time.
Tennessee returns to action next Saturday when it hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.