NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Malik Willis said his new teammate Ryan Tannehill is "a good dude," and head coach Mike Vrabel dismissed any lingering concern over the veteran player pointing out the obvious: Tannehill is the team's starting quarterback, not a mentor or a coach.
"His job is to prepare to help us win a bunch of games and and be a great teammate and help out," Vrabel said Friday. "And I know that he's going to do that. So that was not any sort of issue for me."
In a May 3 news conference, days after the NFL draft, Tannehill said he didn't think it was his job to mentor Willis, the Titans' third-round pick from Liberty. Tannehill's comment about being a mentor — made in the context of a longer reply about the nature of competing within the same position group in which he also said it's "a great thing" if Willis "learns from me along the way" — drew criticism on social media.
Vrabel, speaking Friday as the Titans began a three-day rookie minicamp, said that's not something he gauges.
"I thought Ryan handled that very well," Vrabel said. "I thought he was genuine. I thought he is authentic. And I know Ryan is a great teammate. Everybody here knows he's a great teammate. And that is not his job."
Asked about Tannehill's comment, Willis had a quick response.
"What comment?" Willis quipped before a quick follow-up question. "Oh, man, we chopped it up. I mean, it was never anything negative. Ryan's a good dude. Like I said, he had us over to the house. Everything's cool."
The interest in Willis is intense because he is the highest-drafted quarterback for the Titans since they selected Marcus Mariota at No. 2 overall in 2015. The Titans not only selected Willis at No. 86, they traded up four spots in the third round to make sure they got him.
In addition, Tannehill is coming off a season in which he had his most interceptions since his second year in the NFL, capped by three picks in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs despite Tennessee earning the AFC's top seed. The nine-year veteran also has the NFL's highest salary cap number after reworking his contract last summer to free up space for Julio Jones, the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who was released in March after being traded by the Atlanta Falcons last summer.
Tennessee's rookies, including 17 undrafted free agents, hit the field Friday with plenty of outside interest in Willis and wide receiver Treylon Burks from Arkansas. Burks was picked 18th overall as the team seeks to replace A.J. Brown, traded by the Titans to the Philadelphia Eagles for that selection.
Burks didn't finish the first individual receiver drill Friday before going inside with a trainer and then going to the locker room. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder did come back out and did a couple more reps before going back inside. Vrabel said only that the team defers to its director of sports medicine.
Willis had some trouble with the snap under center, though Vrabel said the quarterback just met his center Thursday night. Willis noted he worked mostly out of the shotgun at Liberty.
The 6-1, 215-pounder's ability to run was most noticeable on a day when everyone was still trying to get in sync, and he also threw some nice passes. In his final season with the Flames, Willis passed for 2,857 yards with 27 touchdowns, which ranked 18th nationally, and he also ran for 878 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Vrabel said he showed Willis examples of how rough the first day of rookie minicamp can be with players going the wrong way, play calls reversed and problems with the snap. No matter how much coaches don't want to see that, it happens.
"We have to regroup, and I think he did that ...," Vrabel said of Willis. "You're going to have incompletions. It was good to see him take care of the football, run when he needed to run, try to show him all these things of how we want to play the game."