With starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill missing three days of practice this week due to illness, along with an ankle sprain, the Titans are set to give rookie third-round pick Malik Willisthe first start of his career, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. After extended time leading the offense in the preseason, Willis will face the Texans this Sunday afternoon for his first full game of NFL football.
Willis started all three preseason games for the Titans this August. In his playing time, Willis was able to display the dual-threat ability that made him such an attractive draft pick. In three games, Willis completed 28 of 51 pass attempts for 318 yards, throwing two touchdowns and one interception. On the ground, he was able to add 159 rushing yards and a touchdown on only 14 attempts.
Willis’ regular season action has been extremely limited as Tannehill holds a pretty secure grip on the starting job. He did, though, make his NFL debut late in a Week 2 blowout loss to the Bills. Head coach Mike Vrabel threw Willis right into the fire against one of the league’s best defenses, and it didn’t go great. Willis completed one of four pass attempts for only six yards in garbage time. He was able to get some production out of his legs, gaining 16 yards on four rushes, but lost a fumble in the process.
Willis didn’t get a ton of time with the team’s top receivers in his preseason play but was afforded the opportunity to work with the first team offense all of this week in practice. Unfortunately for Willis, quarterback isn’t the only position affected by injury in Tennessee. The Titans are one of the league’s more battered teams with 13 players currently on injured reserve, six of those being on offense and three of those being his pass catchers. In addition to those 13, the Titans have two players, fullback Tory Carter and pass rusher Rashad Weaver, who are set to sit out this weekend.
Tannehill is listed as questionable and is likely available to play in case of emergency, but the illness may be a blessing in disguise, letting the Titans rest their starting quarterback while allowing his sprained ankle a little extra time to heal. Likely a step between Willis and emergency, the Titans have elevated quarterback Logan Woodside from the practice squad. They will elevate defensive lineman Larrell Murchison for the weekend, as well.
The Titans currently reside atop one of the NFL’s weaker divisions at 4-2. With the second-place Colts undergoing a transition at quarterback, Tennessee should feel fairly comfortable with their division lead, allowing them to make this play at quarterback. Tannehill will get some rest and Willis will get some experience.
Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline Tuesday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters. In addition to waiver claims, teams can begin constructing their 16-man practice squads today. These Colts, Jaguars, Texans and Titans moves are noted below.
Here are Wednesday’s AFC South transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.
Logan Woodside could also land back on the Titans practice squad after the team opted to keep only two QBs on their active roster (Ryan Tannehill, rookie Malik Willis). Woodside has seen time in 11 games for Tennessee over the past two years, completing one of his three pass attempts (he did break out a sweet 18-yard run, though).
4:29pm: The veteran quarterback has indeed suffered a torn ACL, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who adds the Falcons will be on the hunt for a new backup quarterback. The team has since announced the unfortunate results of McCarron’s MRI. McCarron has seven years’ experience as a QB2, leaving the Falcons with work to do at an unideal time. However, Ryan’s durability (three missed starts in 13 seasons) will help the franchise on this front.
9:10am: Falcons quarterback A.J. McCarron suffered a serious knee injury during last night’s preseason matchup against the Dolphins. After handing the ball off to running back Qadree Ollison in the second quarter, McCarron grabbed his right knee and tried to walk off the field, though he was initially unable to do so. He ultimately walked gingerly to the locker room, and neither McCarron nor head coach Arthur Smith were encouraged by the prognosis.
“I really feel for [McCarron],” Smith said (via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com). “Any time something like that happens and it’s non-contact, it’s tough when you know what these guys put into it. I feel for A.J. We’ll obviously get the MRI to confirm but he’s heartbroken.”
Smith did not want to speculate on the specifics until after McCarron gets an MRI, but it certainly sounds as if it will be a season-ender for the former Alabama star. Which means that the Falcons, who signed McCarron to a one-year deal this offseason to serve as Matt Ryan‘s backup, could be in the market for a veteran passer.
The only other QB on the roster, undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks, took over for McCarron and completed four of his nine passes for 46 yards. He also threw an interception and took four sacks, adding three carries for 32 yards.
As one might expect, the current free agent quarterback list is uninspiring and includes the likes of Blake Bortles and Josh Rosen, though new ESPN talent Robert Griffin III could be an option. Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com also speculates that, if the Titans were to cut Logan Woodside, he might become a target for Atlanta (Twitter link). Smith, Tennessee’s former offensive coordinator, is high on Woodside’s talent, and the McCarron situation might compel the Titans to keep Woodside on their roster to avoid having him poached.
Ryan Tannehill missed games due to injury from 2016-18, dealing with multiple ACL tears during this span — one that included a full-season absence in 2017. But the former top-10 pick has re-established himself with the Titans, not missing a game for health reasons since his 2019 trade to Tennessee.
However, the Titans’ soon-to-be 33-year-old starter can still be labeled injury-prone. And Tennessee has an interesting backup situation. Logan Woodside has not seen the field much in three seasons, while DeShone Kizer‘s 2017 run as a starter played a significant role in the Browns completing the NFL’s second 0-16 season. But the Titans appear content with this duo behind Tannehill.
Woodside checked the necessary boxes for the Titans’ staff as Tannehill’s backup last year, according to TennesseeTitans.com’s Jim Wyatt, who adds the former seventh-round pick will have the edge to keep this gig over Kizer. The latter, a Browns 2017 second-rounder who landed on the Titans’ practice squad last November, has shown strides this offseason, Wyatt adds.
A Toledo product, Woodside has appeared in six games in three seasons. He has taken just 21 career snaps, with only three of those being pass plays. The Browns traded Kizer to the Packers after one season. The Notre Dame alum has not attempted a regular-season pass since 2018, when he completed 20 of 42 throws with Green Bay. Kizer led the league with 22 interceptions in 2017. The Raiders claimed him off waivers in September 2019 but cut him from their practice squad for good in September 2020.
Were the Titans to look at a veteran backup, Brett Hundley and Sean Mannion remain in free agency. The Titans carried Trevor Siemian on their practice squad for two months last year, but the Saints poached him from that unit in November. The Titans could look to the trade market, but as long as Tannehill is healthy, the team plans to roll with the Woodside-Kizer duo behind its starter.
While speculation swirls about the Titans and a potential Jadeveon Clowney signing, here’s the latest on the players who are actually on Tennessee’s roster:
Last year, Derrick Henry led the league in both carries (303) and rushing yards (1,540). This year, he’ll likely be looking at a reduced workload. Tennessee’s offense will benefit “if more guys are touching the ball,” Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith says (Twitter link via Michael Giardi of NFL.com). If a significant number of those touches figure to go to third-round rookie Darrynton Evans, Henry’s future earnings could be impacted. Unless the Titansand Derrick Henry come to terms on an extension between now and the July 15 deadline, the running back will be on course for free agency in 2021. It’s worth mentioning that a lighter workload may actually benefit Henry as teams tend to fret about RB odometers.
Corey Davis‘ future with the Titans is also in limbo, but Smith tells the team website that he likes what he’s seen out of the wide receiver thus far. “There were some huge explosive plays (last year) that Corey was the unsung hero to,” Smith said. “He’s a big part of this offense and I think he’ll take another step. I feel very confident in Corey, A.J. and Adam (Humphries) and that group.” The Titans, as expected, turned down Davis’ fifth-year option in May. Through three pro seasons, Davis has just six touchdowns to his credit.
There’s been talk of the Titans adding a veteran backup quarterback, but Smith suggested that the QB2 job will go to either Logan Woodside or Cole McDonald, depending on how the camp competition unfolds.