Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel saw enough of former Kentucky star Will Levis in a two-game audition to make the permanent change Tuesday to the rookie quarterback as the Titans get ready to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Vrabel said the Titans made the decision after Levis, 24, impressed as the starter filling in for injured Ryan Tannehill. He threw four touchdown passes in his debut to beat the Atlanta Falcons and showed poise and confidence in a loss at Pittsburgh last week.
“There’s clearly something there, and we want to be able to continue to work with him and progress and develop and win — that’s how you get better,” Vrabel said. “You only get better by going out there and playing, especially at that position. So this will be a huge test for any quarterback, going on the road, in Tampa, with what they are able to do, how well they are coached schematically, but also the players they have, the pressure packages, the disguises that they are able to have, and as many turnovers as they’ve been able to create.
Vrabel said he met with his quarterbacks Tuesday morning before informing the team of his decision. The shift in direction comes after Vrabel insisted he wouldn’t make a call until Tannehill, out with an ankle injury, was healthy.
Vrabel declined to discuss the team’s plans moving forward at the position, saying instead he wanted to let Tannehill get healthy before making any definitive decisions at quarterback.
“Will is going to be our quarterback. We are going to go with Will. We think that is the best opportunity for our football team right now,” Vrabel said.
“I think Ryan will progress though here this week. I think, and we’re hopeful (he) can be a backup here for us and prepare as a starter. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Tannehill, 35, is in the final year of his contract and Levis was expected to be given a chance to win the job. But Tannehill’s second major ankle injury advanced the team’s timeline.
Drafted No. 33 overall in April out of Kentucky, Levis threw for 238 yards and four touchdowns with a 130.5 rating in his first start, resulting in a 28-23 win over the Falcons on Oct. 29. He had seven completions of 20-plus yards at Pittsburgh. Tannehill had two touchdown passes and six interceptions in six starts this season.
“I have a lot of respect for Ryan, personally and professionally,” Vrabel said. “We’ve won a lot of football games here with Ryan. He was a professional (when we talked), but I’ll keep that conversation between him and I and allow him to speak for himself.”