Malik Willis made several dazzling plays in his NFL debut Thursday night, though his head coach believed the rookie signal-caller should have done more.
Willis started at quarterback for the Titans in their first preseason game against the Ravens. He finished the night completing six of 11 passing attempts for 107 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions, good enough for an 88.1 passer rating.
Shortly after the game – in which the Titans lost 23-10 – coach Mike Vrabel revealed he took Willis out of the contest moments into the third quarter because the rookie wasn’t passing the ball enough.
“He needs to try and throw the ball when guys are open [and] be more decisive,” Vrabel said of Willis. “We’ll evaluate that, see if there’s a timing issue.”
Despite the criticism from his coach, Willis showcased his impressive skill set that convinced Tennessee to draft him 86th overall in this year’s NFL Draft.
With less than a minute into the second quarter, the Liberty product evaded a would-be sack from fellow rookie Kyle Hamilton and squeezed past two defenders near the goal line to secure a seven-yard rushing touchdown. Several minutes later, he uncorked a 44-yard pass
to wide-open receiver Racey McMath, as well as a sidearm strike to tight end Tommy Hudson.
Willis had a tendency in college to tuck his head and run when wide receivers were open, which was one of the knocks on his game that likely led to him being the third quarterback selected in the 2022 draft — behind Kenny Pickett and Desmond Ridder.
In the second quarter, Willis was looking for a pathway to run the ball moments after taking the snap, but to no avail. Instead of stepping up in the pocket and delivering a pass, he remained indecisive for several moments too long and suffered a sack.
Then, two plays into the third quarter, Willis briefly scanned the field before tucking the ball and running for the first down. It seems as though Vrabel and co. were looking to break this habit, as they took the 23-year-old pass-slinger out of the game immediately after the play.
Willis certainly flashed signs of greatness, though likely has a long way to go before he’s ready to assume the starting quarterback role.