NASHVILLE – Malik Willis isn’t making any excuses for 2022.
Yes, he was forced into action far earlier – and much more – than anyone anticipated. And no, he didn’t look especially comfortable in his rookie season.
But the Titans quarterback, now in his second offseason with the team, doesn’t want to hear anything about being held to a tougher standard despite not having a lot of time to develop.
“It’s a results-based business,” Willis said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter what I think, it doesn’t matter what you think, it just is. I am just focusing on what I can control.”
Willis, who played in eight games in 2022, making three starts, was able to control his work ethic this offseason, and he put in the work.
When Willis was been put in a position to gain valuable reps in OTAs and minicamp this offseason, he took advantage of that as well.
At the conclusion of the team’s on-field work this offseason, Willis said he’s been encouraged by his progress. But he knows there’s plenty of work to be done.
“I have just been trying to take it one play at a time, and one day at a time,” Willis said. “And that’s just my main focus, understanding each play is not going to be great, but make the best of it what you can, and learn from it what you can.”
Willis, a third-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Liberty, wasn’t supposed to play last season.
The Titans planned to let him sit back and learn – and develop – during his rookie season while backing up starter Ryan Tannehill, who hadn’t missed a game with the team since taking over as the starter in 2019.
Tannehill, however, suffered an ankle injury back in October, which forced Willis into action.
While Willis had his moments – he guided the Titans to a win in his first NFL start at Houston – he also had his share of struggles while playing in an offense he did his best to adapt to in a hurry.
He finished the season the season 31-of-61 (50.8%) for 276 yards with zero touchdown passes and three interceptions, with a passer rating of 42.8. Willis also ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
At the end of the season, the Titans elected to go with Josh Dobbs – not Willis – in the final two games.
At the start of this offseason, Willis put in work away from Nashville before returning for offseason workouts.
“Just trying to get better,” Willis said. “And focus on whatever I can improve on so the next time I had an opportunity to come out here, I could show that I improved.”
By all accounts, he’s shown improvement.
In the open practices, he looked more decisive, and was more accurate.
“Malik has grown a lot,” Tannehill said. “He put a lot of work throughout the offseason. I was able to throw with him a few times during the offseason before we started here and saw his growth, saw him pushing himself. He has only continued that as we’ve gotten out here. … I’m proud of him and the work he’s put in, and it’s fun to see a guy grow, and see his hard work pay off.
“He’s (been) in command of the offense, he’s throwing the ball accurately, he’s playing fast.”
Titans Coach Mike Vrabel challenged Willis this offseason, and he likes the way he has responded as well.
“I thought he continued to get better,” Vrabel said of Willis. “His attitude, his demeanor, making little coaching points with him and seeing that immediately translate. … He is very reception (to coaching).”
Willis plans to keep working. In his mind, he’s not competing against Will Levis for the back-up spot, but he’s instead competing with himself to get better.
He admits things feel different in Year 2. He’s no longer a rookie, which means he’s sometimes lending advice to others instead of always asking for it.
“It is definitely different from last year,” he said. “Things are moving fast, and last year, it was my rookie year, and it was my first time being under center, OTAs last year. I think when you have a whole year of doing something, you just get a little more comfortable doing it.”
But Willis knows he’s a work in progress.
“We’re still learning,” Willis said. “There’s still mistakes that are made, and we’re just trying to learn from them each day. This whole process of spring, it was really cool, getting in and learning the offense, learning our new players and understanding how everybody learns and improves. It’s been great.”