First impressions of Malik Willis, plus what he said about Ryan Tannehill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Malik Willis is likely to have a long, slow learning after making the jump from FBS college ball at Liberty to the Titans in the NFL.

Friday, he practiced for the first time surrounded only by rookies and four guys with a bit of experience and were eligible to attend. He spun the ball well, in a pretty and tight spiral though his delivery could certainly be sped up.
Malik Willis

© George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

And he forged through a couple of difficult stretches coming out of it all upbeat with a solid understanding of the process ahead.

“I think it went good,” he said. “I got another opportunity to come out here and get on the field again. I mean, it felt good. Just like the first day of school. Got that, you know, little stomach feeling. It felt really good.”

He battled some fumble problems for a stretch where he had trouble backing out from under center Xavier Newman-Johnson, an undrafted rookie out of Baylor whom he met Thursday night.

“That was just a little something,” he said. “I wasn’t doing that too much., I wouldn’t fret over that. We’re working on that. It’s just a little different. I played under the gun most of the time in college. … It’s a little different here, I’ve just got to understand that and get used to it.”

And late in the practice as he worked to get the offense going he hit a stretch of three plays where he made bad throws: A 5-yard out to the left that required Kyle Philips to get horizontal to the ground to corral, a midrange pass to tight end Thomas Odukoya that hit a defender in the back and should have been wider and a overthrow deep for Mason Kinsey who was covered by second-rounder Roger McCready.

Again, Willis rebounded and got back on track, making one excellent throw up the middle to Odukoya who was tightly covered by a linebacker. He spent a lot of time with Todd Downing and worked some when the offense was not on the field together on progressions.

He didn’t get to throw to first-round pick Treylon Burks, who was quickly struggling in a basic receiver period. He got pulled back by a bungee cord and then needed a long wait – with his hands on his knees -- before taking his turn running low under a covered cart before rising up to complete a route and make a catch.

Shortly after that, he went into a new training room in the new building that borders the practice fields.

He used an inhaler while sidelined during the drills and Vrabel indicated it was conditioning, the sort of thing that happens sometimes even to veterans who think they’ve mimicked the conditions they will face in practice but haven’t.

But this was not an especially strenuous portion of practice and it was in the mid-80s. And of 38 guys listen on the day's roster, it wasn't anybody who fell out so quickly, it was Burks.

Better this than the start of some hamstring or soft-tissue issue. We’ll see if it comes to symbolize anything. Hopefully, it’s a blip.


Willis and Vrabel both did nice work to dull the controversy that spun out of Ryan Tannehill’s May 3 comment that it is not his job to mentor Willis.

Willis said Titans offensive rookies were recently at the Tannehill’s home.

It will still be interesting to watch the two work together, but that should really be the end of the larger theme unless Tannehill is standoffish, which I do not expect he will be.

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