Scout's Take: Titans' Malik Willis Lacks Pocket Awareness, But He Has to Make It

By BLAKE BEDDINGFIELD, special correspondent
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Malik Willis has shown improvements in his game but with the extended playtime over the past two weeks, he has also shown how much further he still must go to be a solid backup quarterback in the NFL.

Malik Willis
Malik Willis/ Courtesy Tennessee Titans

Willis has very good athletic ability, arm strength and a quick release, which are all very good traits for any level quarterback.
But Willis still lacks pocket awareness and patience in the pocket, he gets uncomfortable in the pocket and flushes himself even when the pass rush hasn’t dictated it. 

With his vision and coverage-reading ability, Willis missed a vertical go-route on his fourth pass of the game. Colton Dowell was open by two steps on the left side of the offense. On the same play, Chris Moore was open in the middle of the field. He didn’t attempt the throw to either receiver, instead, he flushed himself up in the pocket and to his right for a sack. The offensive line had great protection on that play.

The maturation continues.  

Best things I saw [Unlocked]

OLine: The starting offensive line was solid, even though unspectacular, but you can win with solid in this league.  I am not comfortable saying this is a solid 17-week starting unit, but I do feel it can have more positives than negatives.  But the depth is a major concern.
Colton Dowell’s physical traits and upside: Dowell aligned inside and outside in the formation, he was used to stretch the field with his speed to allow underneath routes to open up. He has the strength to maintain his route even against physical defensive backs. As he progresses he will take the role of Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and allow Westbrook-Ikhine to take a lesser receiving role. 

Julius Chestnut: He is a solid player as a runner and receiver. He’s not a future starter in the league, but he is a competent backup to Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears.  
Worst things I saw
I don’t like the depth at inside linebacker: That is a crucial position for the team but each player except Azeez Al-Shaair have the same make-up and skill set – they are overachieving run-down players with limited pass-coverage ability. None of them have a combination of run/pass coverage skills.

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Backup safety position: I like Mike Brown as a make-it player for his versatility as a nickel linebacker and special teams’ player but not as a third safety in the game. 
Quality overall depth: It can be defined as veteran players who play a role with a specific trait to help the team in a pinch or a young player with upside to eventually take over a starting spot. I don’t see quality depth on this team outside of quarterback, running back and defensive line. With 90 players on this roster currently, and that is a MAJOR concern.  
Keep an eye on
Wide receiver Kearis Jackson on the practice squad: He has tools to develop. He needs to improve his zone route-running. He will run either through zones and get covered up. When the QB is looking for an open window to pass or he stays covered up and doesn’t find the open spots to present a clean target.  
Rashad Weaver: The veteran outside linebacker will need to play a high number of snaps early in the season until Harold Landry gets all the way back from his injury last season. 
Probably in trouble
Running back Hassan Haskins: Unless the team values him as a special teams player to the point he needs to have that fourth running back spot. 
Inside linebacker Monty Rice: He didn’t play the last two games, apparently hurt, and in the first game he played nine snaps. With such weak depth at that position he should have been a guarantee to make it, but somehow fell out of favor with the coaches or front office. 
I feel good about
Veteran defensive lineman/ OLB Denico Autry: He looks ready!!!
Free-agent signing inside linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair: He will improve the speed of the defense. I feel he will get covered up against good run teams at times, but I like his ability to play all three downs and provide speed to the sideline and also blitz from the middle -- similar to what David Long gave the team.
Second-year inside linebacker Chance Campbell: He is a make-it player and is better than starter Jack Gibbens, but neither are starters in the NFL.  
Veteran outside linebacker Harold Landry: He doesn’t look like the preinjury player yet, but he did show some flashes and that will only get better as he continues to play. He had two rushes from the left side that made me feel he will be productive early in the season as long as his reps are limited and he isn’t overworked like he had been in the past.
I don’t feel good about
Rookie tight end Josh Whyle contributing early in the season: He hasn’t produced consistently in games as a receiver or blocker.  
Veteran wide receiver Chris Moore: He’s obviously on the team. But he hasn’t shown any playmaking ability or even the consistent catch-and-run skills needed to be a top-three or four producer at the receiver position. 
Inside linebacker Jack Gibbens as a starter: He is fine in a backup role, but not a 17-week productive starter. 
Nickel corner/safety Elijah Molden as a consistent contributor: But he doesn’t have a lot of competition currently on the roster. 
Roster battles:
The Titans need to keep Willis, he has the tools, he just needs the game to continue to slow down for him and experience in the same system will do that. He has the ability to be a solid backup QB in the NFL. 
I like Kyle Peko as a backup interior defensive lineman. He shows up whenever he is in the game. I think the team will be cutting a good defensive tackle because Peko, Jaleel Johnson, T.K. McClendon and Jayden Peavy have all shown the ability to be Kuharsky megaphonebackup linemen in the league. With Jeffrey Simmons, Denico Autry, Teair Tart and Naquan Jones making the team, they just isn’t room.  
Rookie outside linebacker Caleb Murphy is a practice squader.
The Titans front office and pro personnel department will be very instrumental in the next five days shaping this roster.
I expect five to six new players on this roster when they line up in Week One versus the New Orleans Saints.
This current group of 90 players does not have 53 make-it players.

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