Coach Mike Vrabel says rookie Will Levis taking over as the Titans starting QB

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rookie Will Levis needed all of two starts to earn the starting quarterback job for the Tennessee Titans.

Coach Mike Vrabel announced Tuesday that the 33rd pick overall out of Kentucky will be the Titans starter moving forward and that he already told the team of the change, moving injured veteran Ryan Tannehill to the backup spot.

“There’s clearly something there," Vrabel said of Levis. "And we want to be able to continue to work with him and progress and develop and win. And that’s how you get better. And you only get better by going out there and playing, especially at that position.”

Vrabel announced the change after informing the Titans (3-5) earlier Tuesday at a team meeting after a long weekend off. They visit Tampa Bay on Sunday (3-5), and now the rookie who began the regular season as the No. 3 will make his third straight start — second on the road — knowing he's the starter.

“We think that’s the best opportunity for our football team right now," Vrabel said.

Levis had been the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart after an injury kept him from playing in the last two preseason games. When Tannehill was hurt and couldn’t finish the loss to the Ravens, second-year quarterback Malik Willis replaced the veteran.

With a bye and a full game week to prepare the rookie, the Titans turned to Levis.

The rookie has four touchdown passes and only one interception with 500 yards passing in two starts. Tannehill, also in the final year of his contract, had two TD passes and six interceptions with 1,128 yards passing in his six starts.

The Titans will see how Tannehill progresses from the right ankle he sprained Oct. 15 in a loss to Baltimore in London. Vrabel expects the 35-year-old veteran to back up Levis.

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Vrabel said.

The 6-foot-4, 229-pound rookie turned in an NFL debut for the ages by throwing a touchdown pass in each quarter of a 28-23 win over Atlanta on Oct. 29. Those 4 TD passes matched the debuts of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton in 1961 and Marcus Mariota in 2015 as the Titans' No. 2 pick overall.

Wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine said Levis has been impressive.

“Obviously in that Oilers game, (he) lit it up and even ... this past Thursday had good composure,” Westbrook-Ikhine said of Levis' performance in a 20-16 loss in Pittsburgh. "I feel like he was able to command the huddle pretty well. And he’s shown that he’s ready to take his shot.”

Levis showed off his strong arm with TD passes of 47, 61 and 33 yards in the win over Atlanta. He's avoided the pass rush, throwing the ball at the ground in the vicinity of a receiver or thrown the ball out of bounds as needed.

The rookie's first turnover came in the final seconds of the loss in Pittsburgh. He threw into a crowd, trying to connect with fellow rookie tight end Josh Whyle for what would have been a game-winning TD.

Westbrook-Ikhine said Levis' control of the huddle may be most impressive. He recalled a quarterback in 2020 who couldn't call out plays in the huddle, and the receiver noted some quarterbacks across the NFL need a wristband.

Not Levis, who rattles off the play calls without wearing a wristband.

“Sometimes you got some long play calls in a short shot clock or play clock to be able to get it off,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. "So it’s impressive. It’s something I don’t think I’d be able to do is remember all those.”

Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair went through quarterback changes last season in San Francisco, with the 49ers turning to a rookie as well.

Brock Purdy was the last player drafted in 2022. “Mr. Irrelevant” took the field in the first quarter of Week 13 when Jimmy Garoppolo got hur t, then started the final five games and all three in the playoffs. Levis was drafted with the second pick of the second round in April.

Al-Shaair said the key is preparing to start each week.

“That type of mentality and that type of focus is similar to what I saw with Will,” Al-Shaair said. "And opportunity shows up. You make plays when your opportunity comes and you help us win and you help us create positive plays.”