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Front Page - Friday, October 13, 2023

Titans must have Levis ready to go

The Bible verse Levis wears on his bicep states, in part: “Be strong ... for your work shall be rewarded.” - Photo by George Walker IV | AP

The Tennessee Titans have a dilemma, one that goes beyond just their 2-3 record to start the season and the many holes that have been exposed through five games.

The Titans, like two other teams in the AFC South, have a rookie quarterback they hope can be the face of the franchise at some point in Will Levis.

The problem is how to go about figuring out how to develop the second-round pick when the game plan doesn’t include him beyond running the scout team in practice. There aren’t enough reps through the week to determine how much Levis has learned or not learned about being an NFL quarterback.

Of course, the most valuable time to do that would have been in training camp and preseason games, but Levis missed the Titans’ final two preseason games with a quad injury and surrendered the No. 2 QB position by default to Malik Willis, who after a dismal rookie season showed a solid step in the right direction in this year’s camp.

For now, Levis is relegated to being a third-stringer, while fellow quarterback members of the Class of 2023 like Anthony Richardson (injured Sunday), C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young are all learning on the job as their teams take the good with the bad in trying to develop them into franchise quarterbacks.

Levis says he is doing all that he can in his situation, even taking advantage of being able to dress on game days, thanks to the new NFL rules that allow a third quarterback to be available on the sideline should the need arise.

“I’m glad I get to suit up. I’m preparing every game as if I’m the starter,” Levis says. “I’m going out there and dressing up and warming up as if I’m playing that day. Even though I haven’t gotten any game day reps yet, I feel like I’ve improved each game being able to watch and see how the offense is operating on the field and how the flow of an NFL game goes.”

Titans coach Mike Vrabel admits it has been a tough process to try and ensure that Levis (and Willis for that matter) are learning more than just how to wear a headset and hold a tablet with play diagrams on the sideline.

“It’s hard, you know what I mean? We try to get these guys throws, some live full-speed throws. I think that it’s been good,” Vrabel says. “I think that the drill work has been good. I think the interactions in the meetings have been good, but it’s just hard with the number of guys we have and the amount of full speed reps that we have during the week.”

The Titans have brought the two quarterbacks in on off days and odd times to try and get them as much extra work as possible. After practice sessions wrap up on Fridays, both Levis and Willis can be seen staying on the field for an extra period going over plays with receivers.

“We’re trying to get those guys live throws on Mondays with guys that don’t play in the game or practice squad guys because I’m very aware that they’ve got to throw, they’ve got to have timing and all those different things. I think that they’re both progressing well. But it is hard during the season,” Vrabel admits.

It’s not ideal, of course, but Levis appreciates any extra attention and practice he can get.

“It means a lot that (Vrabel) cares about our development,” Levis says. “It’s nice to be able to get in on our off days and do things that help to better prepare us for when our name gets called. He’s thinking of things, as well as all the other coaches, to try and keep us involved as much as possible.”

Vrabel says determining how to develop Levis and Willis behind the scenes is a hidden priority for the Titans. It has to be, because starter Ryan Tannehill is not under contract past this season, and barring a shift in stance, it appears that either Levis, Willis or someone else could be under center for the Titans come 2024.

That work appears to be even more critical for Levis, who missed the valuable preseason time and has no regular-season experience other than dressing out on game days. While Levis, unlike Willis, played in a pro-style system in college, the current No. 2 QB at least has last year’s game experience to draw upon.

Levis, on the other hand, is still new out of the box. But he says he is plenty comfortable with the parts of the offense that the Titans installed in the offseason.

It’s getting to work on the new details that might seep into a game plan each week where he has to make sure he is paying extra attention and learning on the fly in lieu of practice and game reps.

“I would just say comfortability with the playbook and just knowing what we’re looking for with the different concepts we have. Obviously, right now game plan-wise, we have game plan specific plays, but we always talk about going back to the core knowledge of what we installed during training camp,” he says. “I feel really comfortable with all the stuff we put in throughout camp, and it’s also every week we’re learning new plays too. I’m tuning into those small details and the things we haven’t learned yet, but I feel good about everything we’ve had in since Day One.”

Levis and Willis divide time running the scout team in practice and that helps some. It’s not nearly the same as live reps, but it’s pretty much all there is right now. So, Levis says he makes the most of it.

“I think growth comes with reps for sure. We talk about earning confidence through preparation, and as a quarterback in this offense, you gain that confidence and that preparation through the reps you get in practice,” Levis says.

“I can still gain confidence through the reps I get in practice with the show team. It is a little different, but you’ve just gotta make the most of your situation.”