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Why Vrabel’s handling of Malik Willis was good coaching

Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel yanked rookie quarterback Malik Willis two plays into the third quarter. It qualified as a strange occurrence given that Willis started the second half. To add to the weirdness, Willis was pulled after gaining 17 yards via an exciting scramble. Willis didn’t appear to pull up with an injury on the play. Vrabel clarified the reasoning for inserting Logan Woodside in the middle of a drive. It was classic Vrabel.

“He [Malik] needs to throw the ball when guys are open and be more decisive,” Vrabel said about Willis during his post-game press conference. “We’ll evaluate that and see if it’s a timing issue. We wanted to get him out there and see how he responded. He made some good plays. We’ll look at the timing on some of the other plays and if we’re making the right decisions,” Vrabel concluded.

To some, it probably seemed strange to witness Vrabel “discipline” Willis by removing him from the contest at the conclusion of an electric 17-yard scramble. It was actually good coaching. Willis escaped clean pockets on far too many occasions. He didn’t show a consistent willingness to test NFL throwing windows. For as electric as Willis’ debut was at times, it was often the showcasing of traits we already knew he possessed. Willis is an athletic quarterback with a cannon for an arm. The Titans want Willis to improve playing within structure as opposed to relying on his playmaking ability outside of structure. Quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara recently discussed this.

A meaningless preseason contest represented the opportune moment for Vrabel to showcase his displeasure with Willis’ pocket presence and overall hesitation. The time to break poor habits is now while Willis is a rookie and learning how to operate at quarterback at this level. Furthermore, Willis’ hesitation made it difficult for the Titans to receive a true evaluation of their receivers, which is necessary given the depth chart battles at the back end of the position.

Willis doesn’t get pulled in a regular-season contest as a third-year starter for missing an open receiver and scrambling for 20 yards. It’s important to remember that. Vrabel and O’Hara are attempting to course-correct the ill-advised habits that made Willis a raw quarterback prospect at Liberty. Now’s the time.

I don’t want to sound like I was displeased with Willis’ performance. I was encouraged. His errors were correctable and Willis continues to display a coachable attitude. Willis will continue making positive strides throughout the remainder of training camp and the preseason. Thursday presented a teachable moment. Vrabel appropriately seized it.