Malik Willis

Malik Willis

Training camp for the Tennessee Titans keeps on moving, as Tuesday marked single-digit days until the team suits up versus the Baltimore Ravens in the first preseason game. Here are three main takeaways from Tuesday’s action at Ascension Saint Thomas Sports Park.

Defense hungry for more

The 2021 Titans defense was no slouch, finishing as the second-best rushing defense, No. 12 overall in total yards and tied for sixth in interceptions. Any Mike Vrabel-coached squad has a good-to-great opportunity to replicate that success, but All-Pro safety Kevin Byard wants to take things a step further in 2022.

“One thing we did talk about was having a lot of sacks last year, but not a lot of strip-fumbles and things like that,” Byard said.

The Titans’ 43 sacks last season were good enough to crack the league’s top 10, while their 13 forced fumbles were middle of the pack.

Byard added that this season’s defense shouldn’t simply lean on past success.

“We’re not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel, but we’re always trying to add onto some stuff that we did last year,” Byard said. “It’s all about trying to have more success than we had last year.”

New faces in receiving core settling in

The Titans receiving core this season will look almost unrecognizable compared to last year’s group. After trading A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles on draft night and losing Julio Jones to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency, the Titans have more than 1,300 receiving yards to make up for if they are to replicate last season’s aerial attack.

They did, however, add receiver Treylon Burks out of Arkansas with the No. 18 pick in the draft as well as veteran tight end Austin Hooper via free agency. Burks has something left to prove in between the lines, but offensive coordinator Todd Downing has been pleased with his intangibles.

“[Burks] has been doing a great job of taking some of the coaching points we’re giving him and applying them to the next time he gets that opportunity,” Downing said, adding that the camp reps with quarterback Ryan Tannehill are boosting Burks’ confidence.

Hooper, on the other hand, has proven he can be a threat to rack up yards just as effectively as he can help drive a run-heavy offense with his all-around tight end skillset. When asked which part of the offense he’s felt most comfortable with so far, his answer was the running game.

Why is that good news? It’s a run-heavy offense in Nashville, thanks to Derrick Henry. If Hooper isn’t popping off the screen by getting open looks, he’ll be laying down blocks for arguably the best back in the NFL.

Malik Willis: Better every day

It’s no doubt that some Titans fans are eager to get a look at quarterback Malik Willis in game form. The third-round draft pick seemingly already has the “quarterback of the future” tag and will almost assuredly see action this preseason.

Willis is making the most of his camp reps under center alongside Tannehill and fellow reserve Logan Woodside.

“Whenever you get [an opportunity in practice], you take advantage of it,” Willis said, “and be back there taking mental reps on all the plays. That’s what Coach Vrabel has been trying to get me to focus on. … See what the coverage is, see how it plays out.”

The football purists will also appreciate Willis’ grateful attitude when it comes to working with his offensive line and receivers. He made it a point to emphasize that their execution is helping him pick up the playbook quicker, and he believes he has ultimately gotten better at everything in his job description since the beginning of rookie minicamp.

“I just appreciate the O-line, appreciate my receivers for getting open,” Willis said. “These are plays that we’ve been repping, so I feel like I should be able to pick it up by now.”

With an established veteran like Tannehill in town, there isn’t any sort of quarterback competition happening in camp. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Willis is making sure he’s ready for any opportunity that comes his way.