Ryan Tannehill wants you to know he doesn’t intend to ice out his new rookie teammate.
Tannehill ruffled some feathers after the draft with his comments made earlier this month regarding third-round pick Malik Willis. As is typical of any veteran quarterback welcoming a potential replacement, Tannehill was asked if he’d make an effort to aid Willis in adjusting to the pro game and responded by pointing out they’re competing against each other and adding “I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him.”
This, of course, exploded online and on the airwaves, with many questioning whether it is proper for Tannehill to take a stingier approach to dealing with Willis. Now that the dust has settled and the news cycle has moved on from Tannehill, the quarterback received a chance to further explain himself.
“I meant no disrespect to Malik or anything close to that,” Tannehill said Tuesday, via Titans senior writer and editor Jim Wyatt. “We’ve been in constant communication since he was drafted, through the madness that ensued after my last press conference and over the last few weeks as he’s been in the building and kind of getting to know each other.
“He’s a good person. He’s a talented player. He’s coming off a great college career. We’re happy to have him in the room. Really just kind of disappointed in how things got spun and twisted a little bit.”
It’s Tannehill’s right to battle to keep his job, and it’s not in his responsibilities to help Willis eventually replace him. Those viewing the situation from the outside, however, have wondered aloud from their moral high ground whether Tannehill could be a better teammate by helping Willis along.
“I pride myself on being a great teammate. I have my whole career,” Tannehill said. “Going back to the time I was a kid playing youth sports, it’s been something that’s been important to me from the beginning and will always be important to me. It’s something I’ll try to instill in my kids as they start playing youth sports is being a great teammate.
“Another thing that I think was blown out of proportion was when I said the word ‘compete.’ I compete every time I set foot on that football field. I compete against myself and the player I was the day before, the lessons I learned, the little things that I picked up off the tape. I’m competing against the defense if we’re going against the defense. If we’re doing QB drills, then I’m competing with whoever else is out there. That’s just how I’m wired.”
As any general manager or coach will happily tell you, competition breeds success. Tannehill isn’t shying from such battles and is well aware of the positives that can come from such competition — after all, it’s part of what led him back to a starting job in the NFL back when Titans coach Mike Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota and replaced him with Tannehill during the 2019 season. The move sparked a turnaround for Tennessee, which reached the AFC title game that year and found its new quarterback in Tannehill.
Such a future could be in store for Willis, but as of now it’s still Tannehill’s job, even after he threw three interceptions in an upset loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round. The Titans are planning ahead by selecting Willis, but they aren’t expecting the rookie to swoop in and take Tannehill’s job immediately.
In the meantime, Tennessee is hoping Willis gains valuable wisdom and experience from Tannehill while sitting behind him. Willis could be Tannehill’s replacement before long, but until then, the focus is on preparing for 2022 — which now includes tuning out external noise.
“We’re going to continue to push each other, to learn from each other in the QB room, encourage each other as this thing goes forward,” Tannehill said. “We’re all here for one goal. My primary focus is to win football games as everyone in this building.”
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