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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Malik Willis is experiencing some growing pains as the Tennessee Titans rookie works through his first training camp.

Willis threw a deep pass to Josh Malone for a nice connection Friday and came back by finding Mason Kinsey across the middle in coverage. Needing a touchdown to wrap up practice, Willis completed two of his first three passes before running and sliding down around the 10.

Then the rookie overthrew Reggie Roberson Jr. at the back of the end zone before being sacked on a corner blitz by Michael Griffin II as time expired.

That’s OK. The Titans can be patient with Willis because Ryan Tannehill is their starter.

“It really is one day at a time. It really is,” Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara said. “And that’s OK. And he’s been great.”

The Titans took the 6-foot-1, 219-pound Willis with the 86th pick overall out of Liberty, trading up to make him the highest-drafted quarterback by the franchise since taking Marcus Mariota at No. 2 overall in 2016. Willis threw for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns last season with 12 interceptions and ran for 13 TDs. For his career, he had 48 TD passes and 29 rushing.

Mariota had to start immediately.

Not only does Tennessee have Tannehill going into his 11th season, Logan Woodside has been his backup the past couple seasons. The challenge is whether Willis can progress fast enough to challenge Logan Woodside for the job backing up Tannehill. On Thursday, Willis ran the two-minute offense right after Tannehill.

Willis says he felt light years away from where he was at Tennessee’s rookie minicamp in mid-May to just the start of training camp a couple weeks ago. He’s processing faster what he needs to be doing on each play and feels much more comfortable running the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.

“My coach is making it real easy to just focus on what I need to focus on and let me go out there and play and have fun,” Willis said.

He’s also learning that fine line that a wide receiver that might appear covered well in college can make the catch in the NFL. Willis has the strong arm, but timing is everything.

“I feel like it’s more when you have to throw that ball. and arm strength is not always going to save you because that waiting half a second later, it might be a PBU instead of a completion,” Willis said.

O’Hara got to spend a lot of time with Willis before the April draft. He believed Willis would be able to grasp information quickly and retain all he learned.

But he has been impressed at just how “super smart” the quarterback is in dealing with the pressure of going from the college game to the NFL, where even the hash marks are different.

“His decision-making, which we monitor, has been very good for a rookie,” O’Hara said.

“And things that he hasn’t had to do before relative to working from the pocket, his feet need to catch up with his mind. And it’s getting better. It takes time. Malik has a very strong arm and a really cool skill set. But you can’t always rely on that all the time.”

That means getting Willis to remember the NFL has lots of rules to protect quarterbacks who stay in the pocket compared to only protection for the head and neck area when running outside.

“Operating outside the pocket is not a problem for Malik,” O’Hara said.

___

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Super Bowl Winning Head Coach Names 2 Rams Hed Target as GM

Getty Matthew Stafford throws the football with Rams head coach Sean McVay watching on June 7, 2022.

Even past Super Bowl winners have become enamored with the body of work the Los Angeles Rams have accomplished — with Sean McVay serving as the sideline mastermind as head coach.

And that includes a current head coach who owns a Super Bowl ring as one who has been impressed with McVay, to the point where he would target him and one other Ram if he were a general manager in the NFL.

That coach is Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who revealed why in his interview with Brandon Marshall on the I Am Athlete podcast released on Saturday, August 13.

What Super Bowl Winning HC Said

Before McVay, Tomlin was the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl at 36 years of age on February 1, 2009. He guided the Steelers past the Arizona Cardinals in thrilling fashion 27-23 with Santonio Holmes’ epic toe drag touchdown.

McVay replaced Tomlin in that category on February 13, 2022 as someone who may have been the same age as Tomlin, but was 303 days younger when his Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. And much like Tomlin’s Super Bowl win with the Steelers, the game ended with an epic end zone catch [made by Cooper Kupp] and a crucial defensive stop [delivered by Aaron Donald].

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Tomlin not only cited McVay as someone he would hire if he were a general manager, but added Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers too.

“I love my young go-getters out west, McVay and Shanahan. Man, I’ve been boys with those guys a long time,” Tomlin told the former wide receiver turned podcast host and NFL analyst.

What is it about the 49ers head coach and the recent Super Bowl winner that Tomlin likes?

“They’re challenging schematically. They take it personal,” Tomlin described. “They’re trying to put their foot on your throat each and every week, and I think their players sense that and buy into that.”

McVay has earned praise in the league as a player-driven head coach whose youthful age makes him relatable to his players. Like Tomlin, McVay is yet to experience a losing season since he’s been a head coach in the NFL, which dates back to 2017 when he became the youngest NFL head coach ever at 30 years old.

Tomlin Would Hire One More Ram

McVay isn’t the only member of the Rams staff he would try to lure if he held a GM job.

The other? Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who Tomlin believed was a significant addition to the Rams before their Vince Lombardi trophy run last season.

“I think he was significant in terms of getting [the Rams] over the top this year,” Tomlin said. “His presence is always felt. Wherever he’s been, whatever side of the ball he works on, he’s always getting after it.”

Like McVay, Morris is another coach who is considered to be in the player’s coach category with his persona. However, he’s also known to be a verbose trash talker during practices and at training camp — which still lightens the mood on the field.

Tomlin and Morris have a history together. They were on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff from 2002 to 2005 while working with the Bucs’ defensive back unit.

Tomlin’s interview can be listened to below.

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