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Will Titans carry 3 QBs for first time in Jon Robinson era?

Wild Card Round - Baltimore Ravens v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Tennessee Titans have never carried three quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster since the Jon Robinson era began in 2016. Whether it was Matt Cassel, Blaine Gabbert, current backup Logan Woodside, or even Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have routinely carried just one backup signal-caller on their active roster. Robinson has typically preferred to allocate that extra roster spot to carry an additional wide receiver or defensive back, but that appears set to change in 2022. With the drafting of Malik Willis and the returning presence of Woodside, the Titans could name three quarterbacks to their pre-Week 1 roster for the first time since Robinson took over.

Tannehill and Willis will undoubtedly be on Tennessee’s roster. That’s a given. Whether or not Woodside makes the roster may coincidentally have more to do with Willis than Woodside himself. The former Wyoming standout has made Tennessee’s final 53-man roster two seasons (2020-21) in a row after enjoying initial stints (and impressing) on the team’s practice squad in 2018 and 2019. Robinson and Head Coach Mike Vrabel have routinely praised Woodside’s preparation and grasp of Tennessee’s system. Woodside has been a fine and professional backup for Tannehill, but this decision may ultimately come down to Willis’ progress as an NFL signal-caller.

Willis was considered a raw and incomplete prospect coming out of Liberty. He faces an uphill battle to acclimate to the NFL level while reworking some of his mechanics and grasping a more detailed and difficult playbook. The Titans have asked him to work under center more than he did at Liberty and that requires a change of process and improved footwork. It’s partially why Willis was surprisingly available in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Titans have been pleased with Willis’ progress so far, but his true progress will be aptly measured throughout training camp and the preseason. What Willis shows throughout those months could help decide Woodside’s fate.

If the Titans want to move forward with their historically preferred two-quarterback room, Willis would have to prove capable of stepping into a National Football League game unprompted in case of injury to Tannehill. If Willis can get himself to that level of trust with the coaching staff, the Titans could consider releasing Woodside ahead of Week 1. If Willis continues to showcase a requirement for more preparation time, the Titans will have to abandon their two-quarterback preference and carry three quarterbacks in 2022.

If the Titans were forced to start a game tomorrow with a backup signal-caller, Vrabel and Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing would almost certainly turn to Woodside, and that’s okay. Willis’ selection represented a hopeful future, and the Titans weren’t looking for, or expecting an immediate return on that investment. Woodside is a consummate pro and the Titans feel comfortable with having him on their roster. It’s worth remembering he beat out Matt Barkley in a backup competition last offseason.

The league’s new practice squad rules could also factor into the equation. NFL teams are now allowed to carry 16 players on the practice squad (an increase from last year’s 14). Ten of those 16 practice squad members can have no more than two accrued seasons. The remaining six don’t carry any limitations, which means veterans can be on a team’s practice squad. The Titans have routinely carried a veteran quarterback on recent practice squads (DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan immediately come to mind). Would the Titans be willing to release Woodside in hopes of getting him onto their practice squad? They would of course risk losing him altogether if they decided to take this route. How fast would Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons target Woodside, for example?

It’s an intriguing topic I believed worthy of further exploration. My predicted outcome is that Robinson and Vrabel are forced to carry three quarterbacks throughout 2022 with Woodside once making the final roster. If that indeed happens, which quarterback earns the active designation on game days becomes a situation worth paying close attention to.