Progress for Malik Willis may have him on the verge of the Titans' backup job

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Malik Willis continued to make gains in his third and final preseason start.

In the week leading up to it what turned out to be a 26-23 win, he said the media was too results-oriented. Certainly, he’s been in the midst of a developmental process, but he may be on the verge of becoming Ryan Tannehill’s backup, a twisted ankle away from his results being crucial to the Titans.

Malik Willis

© Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

During a game where few starters played and those who did were not on the field long, Willis played a particularly effective first half and had his best results yet.

“There were some things we talked about improving,” Mike Vrabel said. “The communication between him and Todd (Downing) during the game, his ability to get us to the line of scrimmage efficiently, his ability to keep his eyes downfield numerous times, sliding up in the pocket….

“Always learning, love his attitude, like all these other guys.”

Willis even gave himself a reasonable grade.

"I think it was probably like a B-," he said. "It was better than the first couple of preseason games, just as far as me sitting in the pocket and just trying to take what the defense is giving me -- even though we didn't convert a couple of third downs just because they weren't giving us those third-and-long looks. So just check down a couple of times and I just took off and slid for whatever we could get to the point."

Willis preseason game-by-game

@BAL: 6-11, 107 yards, no TDs, no INTS, two sacks, 88.1 passer rating, five carries for 38 yards and a TD
vs. TB: 7-17, 80 yards, 1 TD, no INTs, 3 sacks, 75.6 passer rating, five carries for 42 yards
vs. ARI: 15-23, 131 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, four sacks, 76.5 passer rating, four carries for 79 yards

Willis has learned a lot about the difference in the ability pool from Liberty last year and in the NFL now, per Vrabel.

On a 14-yard second-quarter throw to Treylon Burks, Willis said he was simply trying to look to where the pressure came from figuring there would be space there. There was as Burks crossed into it from the left and cut up and raced into the end zone with no real challenge. It looked a lot like many plays A.J. Brown had success with during his three years as the team's top playmaker in the passing game.

Vrabel was also pleased with the work of Logan Woodside, who engineered an excellent 12-play, 75-yard series that took 3-minutes and 1 second that put the Titans ahead for good with 52 seconds remaining. Dez Kuharsky megaphoneFitzpatrick dropped a touchdown on third-and-4 from the 9-yard line, and Woodside responded by running it in on the fourth down that followed.

“I thought he was excited about going in, he’s earned the right to go in there and win,” Vrabel said. “guys responded, he got us in the right checks, threw a great ball to Dez, he wasn’t able to come down with it, and then scrambled when it opened up.

“All the things that he’s been working on, especially down in the red zone when it opens up like that, he's done that in practice. I wasn’t shocked.”

It certainly seems like Willis has done enough to be Ryan Tannehill's backup, where he could also enter games for a couple of snaps as a slippery alternative to Tannehill who might produce a big play. 

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