Titans prep QBs Levis, Willis even as coach hopes for Tannehill's return

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee rookie quarterback Will Levis sure looks as if he will make his NFL debut Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Whether the No. 33rd overall draft pick starts, well coach Mike Vrabel publicly is holding out hope veteran Ryan Tannehill still plays. If Tannehill's sprained right ankle sidelines him, then the Titans will be playing both Levis and second-year quarterback Malik Willis.

And Vrabel sure wasn't annoucing a starter Wednesday.

“I never said that Will was going to be the starter,” Vrabel said. “Both of them will play if Ryan can’t. We’ll see how Ryan feels. ... That’s where we’re at right now.”

Tannehill talked with reporters as usual. The quarterback, who missed five games last season after spraining that same ankle twice, walked very gingerly to and from the podium wearing an apparent compression sock on his right leg.

With the Titans (2-4) off last week for their bye, Tannehill started recovery, wearing a cast into last weekend before moving to a walking boot and scooter keeping weight off that ankle. He was off that by Tuesday.

He didn't practice Wednesday, instead getting treatment early. Tannehill said he planned to come out and keep up with the game plan for the Falcons (4-3). He had a tightrope surgery after his second sprain last season and said the “cables (are) in there doing their job.”

“Frustrating that it happened, but it’s trending the right direction and healing,” Tannehill said. "And I can tell that it’s healing. It’s feeling a lot better. You know, every couple of days I can notice a big difference. So I hope to keep on the track.”

Willis, the 86th pick overall in 2022 out of Liberty, has backed up Tannehill since being drafted. Willis started all three preseason games with Levis missing the last two games with an injury. He also replaced Tannehill in the loss to Baltimore in London.

But Willis, drafted by the general manager who was fired in December, is 1-2 as a starter. He has yet to throw his first NFL touchdown pass and has been picked off three times.

If Levis winds up starting, he would be the seventh rookie to start at least once this season and third inside the AFC South, joining Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Aidan O'Connell, Tyson Bagent. Clayton Tune is the only other rookie to throw a pass this season.

Atlanta coach Arthur Smith, who worked for Vrabel for three seasons, said it doesn't matter who plays quarterback.

“He could put (a reporter) out there, and he’d have him ready to go,” Smith said of his former boss.

The Titans started prepping both Willis and Levis with the first-team offense last week. Levis said he's excited to play if that is what happens and credited Tannehill with helping both Willis and himself prepare if called.

“He’s been incredible to learn from, and his experience goes a long way,” Levis said. "And (I) could have been with a team and played right away, could of not played until a point like whenever. But like I said, the preparation’s still the same. I’m glad that Ryan’s along the way to help that preparation.”

NOTES: S Terrell Edmunds, the player Tennessee received in trading two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, practiced Wednesday. WR Treylon Burks, who has missed three straight games with an injured left knee, practiced fully. So did WR Chris Moore (concussion protocol), DB Elijah Molden (hamstring) and DL Teair Tart who missed the past two games with a toe injury. ... Rookie TE Josh Whyle (concussion protocol) did not practice. ... The Titans claimed former Eagles and Cardinals S K’Von Wallace off waivers and put DL Taylor Stallworth on injured reserve.

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