All indications are that Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis will receive the first start of his professional career against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Much to the dismay of Mike Vrabel, who had previously said both Levis and Malik Willis “would play” if Ryan Tannehill was unavailable, Ian Rapoport reported that Levis would be the primary quarterback. The leak seemingly didn’t come from the coaching staff, and Vrabel responded in peculiar fashion later that afternoon.
“We’ll figure out the game plan as we get through the week,” Vrabel said when expanding on a potential two-quarterback system on Sunday. “We may run the plays in with them, it could be every series or two series. If Ryan [Tannehill] can’t play, we’ll get a look at both [Levis & Willis] quarterbacks. We’ll need both of them to help us win,” Vrabel concluded.
Vrabel seemed displeased with Rapoport’s report, quickly indicating that such information didn’t come from the coaching staff. Let’s hold our breath before condemning Vrabel and the staff for a two-QB system. Such a nightmare would do a struggling offensive line no favors.
Levis has been receiving reps with the starting offense for the majority of the practice week. Vrabel has made various strange statements, likely in the spirit of gamesmanship. Although the team’s public persona has been questionable in recent weeks, all decisions being made behind closed doors indicate the franchise understands its at a crossroads.
Talk of two quarterbacks be damned, starting Levis is the appropriate decision. Of the quarterbacks on the roster, Levis, not Willis, offers Tennessee their best chance of finding a long-term in-house solution at the quarterback position. And make no mistake, a longterm outcome, not the present, has taken center stage. You don’t trade away superstar safety Kevin Byard for draft pick compensation (and additional financial flexibility) if you’re focused on winning now.
The challenge for Levis will be enormous. But at least the former Kentucky standout had two weeks to prepare for an underrated Falcons defense that’s allowing the third-fewest yards (285.4) per contest. Vrabel’s Titans have consistently been good-to-great when coming off a bye, but rarely has Vrabel dealt with a roster this talent-less throughout his tenure.
Don’t Levis distract from…
Sophomore wide receiver Treylon Burks will make his return from a three-game absence. Burks has largely been a disappointment throughout his second campaign. It’s probably not going to get immediately better with Tannehill on the sidelines. The second-year receiver had one bright performance of three, a 76-yard showing against the Los Angeles Chargers, which 70 of those yards occurred on one play, arguably Burks’ lone good play of the season.
The Titans desperately require Burks to develop into an every-day weapon. At this point, they’d settle for him to be a quality No. 2 receiver despite his first-round positioning, much like Corey Davis once developed into an appropriate running mate opposite A.J. Brown.
Sophomore offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere will make his first career start at left tackle. He’s officially replaced the struggling Andre Dillard, who’s been benched despite signing a $29 million contract in the offseason. That’s the first misfire of the Ran Carthon era, by the way.
The Titans were impressed with Petit-Frere’s brief performance against the Baltimore Ravens. The advanced metrics disagree. Pro Football Focus credited Petit-Frere with allowing four pressures, 2.0 sacks, and two hurries in 22 pass-blocking reps versus the Ravens en route to claiming a pass-blocking grade of 17.4.
Petit-Frere will have his hands full with a better-than-advertised Falcons pass rush. They may rank 28th in the league with 13.0 sacks, but eight of those quarterback takedowns arrived via the previous two weeks. The Falcons possess a pass-block-win rate of 50%, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Much like Levis and the quarterback spot, the Titans are hoping to locate an in-house solution to their left tackle woes. And like Levis, Petit-Frere is receiving his first (of presumably many) opportunities at the position against the Falcons on Sunday. It’ll be worth monitoring his progress.