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With a Big Smile, Titans Rookie QB Malik Willis Doing His Best to Tackle NFL Challenges One Day at a Time


NASHVILLE – Malik Willis flashes a smile as fast as he slings the football.

The Titans rookie quarterback, who has started the team's first two preseason games, is all about having a good time.

"It's always fun when we get to play football," Willis said on Saturday night. "It's always fun."

Willis, drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, is doing his best to convince the team's decision-makers he's worthy of the No.2 job behind starter Ryan Tannehill.

Along the way, Willis is tackling a lot of firsts – first start, first touchdown run, first touchdown pass.

Willis knows he's been far from perfect, but he's doing his best not to stress about it all.

"At this point, I just wake up every day and thank God that I get to do what I do," Willis said after the team's win over the Buccaneers. "I'm just super excited to go to work tomorrow. Go work out and watch the film, correct it. … I get to watch it with Coach (Vrabel). We can talk about the good, the bad, and it's just focusing on how we can fix it. It's over with now. It's in the books."

In two preseason games, Willis has completed 13-of-28 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown. His completion percentage is 46.4, his passer rating 80.5. Willis has been sacked five times while playing just over a half in each game. He's also racked up 80 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said he's seen improvement from Willis, who has been guilty of being impatient at times because of his willingness to leave the pocket and run.

Willis, who has been quick to criticize himself, knows it's something he must improve.

"It's not about feeling comfortable," Willis said. "It's about making it a big point to stay in the pocket when I can. And not just because I'm athletic or I can get out when I want to, just to get out sometimes. And it is understanding when not to. And that's the biggest thing. That's why I'm a little disappointed in myself for, I think I got out a little bit too much. But it's a growing process. It's my second preseason game. I'm not going to be too hard on myself in that regard. So, I'm just excited and blessed that I get opportunity next week."

Next week for Willis and the Titans is work against the Arizona Cardinals.

The two teams are scheduled to hold joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday of this week before preseason game No.3 on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.

Willis knows he's improved, but he's far from satisfied.

"Thinking about it, I think (Week 2 was) a little bit better than Week One. I got a few checkdowns that I got and I stayed in there and just got it out quickly, but not by much," he said. "I think this is something I just need to focus on and continue to just find that in between from when I need to play, make a play, don't just climb in the pocket and help my O-line out.

"When I have a clean pocket, when people are open downfield, I need to make that throw. I need to stay in there and do whatever I need to do in order to just not ask so much of protection and also save my body more than anything. And those times when I did, I do need to make a play when nobody's open, when there's pressure in the pocket and it's right now and just being able to react. It's just finding the balance between those two."

Willis said he's receiving constant encouragement from those around him, even if he's received some tough love.

Everyone is aware he's just getting started.

"I'm probably a little bit more critical than my coaches, but they always balance me out," Willis said. "So I'm not overly critical because at the end of the day, nobody's perfect. Everybody's going to make mistakes. And especially being young, they try to help me see the glass half full.

"(Coach told me) 'Don't worry about being perfect,' because that's what I was doing. 'Don't worry about being perfect, just go out there and let it rip and have fun. You've been blessed with a lot of ability, so just go have fun and continue to learn."

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