CHARLOTTEESPN recently produced a piece projecting how soon each rookie quarterback around the league might start. For the Tennessee Titans and Malik Willis, fans would be wise not to hold their breath.

For the 2022 season, that is.

Asked to put a projected start date on Willis in Tennessee, my reputable colleague Turron Davenport said Week 15 of 2023. Even that might be a generous prognostication. It is more likely that incumbent Ryan Tannehill plays out the stretch of his four-year, $118 million contract with the Titans than it is the rookie outright wins the job. The veteran has two years remaining, including this year, left on that deal.

It is not that Willis is incapable of doing so. More accurately, Tennessee’s current third-string signal-caller has so much still to learn.

Several 2022 college QBs have more pro style experience than Willis

That might sound blasphemous to many of you reading this.

It also means you likely did not watch Willis’ collegiate offense at Liberty. The Titans rookie is not alone in a lack of pro style education at a player’s alma mater. Manufacturing offense is far easier to do and player deficiencies like accuracy, arm strength or an inability to diagnose defensive schematics relatively painless to work around.

There are two prominent examples getting ready to play college football this Fall who are a prime example of how much work Willis has yet to do.

“(Quarterback) Brice Young, in his first year as a starting quarterback, was allowed to call the protections in the Alabama pass game,” NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell told me this week on our podcast The Install“That tells you an awful lot about Brice Young. Because (Bill) O’Brien would not allow him to do that if he was not capable of doing that.”

As basic a function of quarterbacking as that might seem, it is an operational task that many like Willis at the college level cannot or simply are not asked to do.

Dec 18, 2021; Mobile, Alabama, USA; Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis (7) shows the Most Valuable Player award in the 2021 LendingTree Bowl after defeating the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert McDuffie-USA TODAY Sports

Titans are just fine building a rookie from the ground up

I spoke to Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara about this subject during mandatory minicamp earlier this month.

“A lot of quarterbacks, when they come in, you really have to teach what we call the operations,” said O’Hara. “And the operations are really everything you do before you even touch the football. It’s a huddle, it’s a play call. It’s a cadence at the line of scrimmage, it’s under center. It’s getting us into the right play at the line of scrimmage, it’s shifts, it’s motions and there’s an operation that has to take place during the play clock.”

What many of us who watch football consider standard is totally new territory for Willis and many others. O’Hara told me that the progress has been steady. A day-by-day approach is all Tennessee’s staff was concerned with at the moment. It is the right perspective for a football team that still has championship aspirations with the current starter.

More importantly, it will give Willis the best possible chance to succeed.

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