NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans know that veteran Ryan Tannehill is their starting quarterback this season.
His backup? That's a decision the Titans aren't ready to make yet with the preseason over and the season opener Sept. 10 in New Orleans coming up fast.
Asked Saturday if he had seen enough to choose either rookie Will Levis or Malik Willis as Tannehill's backup for the opener, coach Mike Vrabel said, “I don't think so.”
The Titans traded up to No. 33 overall to draft Levis out of Kentucky in April. He missed the final two preseason games with an injured left thigh. Levis practiced Wednesday, warmed up before Friday night's 23-7 preseason finale win over New England and watched from the sideline as the Titans finished 2-1.
Willis also is a quarterback Tennessee traded up to draft at No. 86 overall in 2022 out of Liberty. Willis wound up playing essentially the past two exhibition games with Tannehill starting against New England and handing off three times before heading to the sideline for the rest of the game.
Willis completed 66.1% of his passes in three preseason games, throwing for 485 yards and three touchdowns. But Willis also had four interceptions — two against the Patriots with bad throws. One was behind rookie tight end Josh Whyle, and the second Willis threw directly to a wide-open linebacker.
The Titans are scheduled to practice twice around the NFL's final roster cutdown day. Vrabel said they will get Levis back on the field this week.
“I thought that Malik took a big step (Friday night),” Vrabel said. “Unfortunately, you have the turnovers. But again, there was a lot of cool stuff that happened after that.”
Willis started 1 of 5 for 22 yards in the first quarter with the first interception. He rebounded by going 14 of 15 and finished with 211 yards passing and two touchdown passes, including a nice 26-yard TD pass to Kearis Jackson.
The second-year quarterback was drafted by then-general manager Jon Robinson, who was fired in December. Willis finished the preseason second on the team in rushing and showed off his ability, averaging 5.9 yards on 22 carries with one TD.
Willis showed more patience looking downfield for receivers before taking off. He also was sacked eight times, and Vrabel made clear Saturday the entire offensive line group needs “a big week.”
Levis played in only the preseason opener, a 23-17 loss at Chicago where he alternated every two series with Willis starting. Vrabel said they'll see where Levis is when they return to practice.
“For young quarterbacks, they have to be able to play in football games,” Vrabel said of Levis' limited playing time. “Whether that’s preseason games, that’s where you develop. We got to try to get him ready to go here through practice now.”
Vrabel said Tuesday when Michael Badgley joined the Titans as their latest kicker that they would likely look at others. Then Badgley banked his first of three made field goals off the left upright and hooked a 39-yarder wide left against the Patriots.
The Titans likely will be looking closely at that position as NFL teams waive kickers before the cut deadline Tuesday.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press