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Tannehill Bristles at Bad Teammate Characterization

The Tennessee Titans quarterback says he has -- and will have -- a good working relationship with rookie Malik Willis.

NASHVILLE – Ryan Tannehill did not read everything that was written about him or listen to everything that was said about him over the last three weeks.

The Tennessee Titans quarterback noted, however, that he had a “general sense” of what was out there. And he did not like it.

Specifically, Tannehill bristled at the notion that he is not – or would not be – a good teammate or that he did not like the idea that he might have to compete to keep his job. Those notions grew quickly from his stated belief that it was not his job to “mentor” rookie Malik Willis, a third-round pick by the Titans in this year’s draft.

“I take that word seriously,” Tannehill said Tuesday following an on-field session. “There are hundreds of people who have helped me out in my life and my career, but there’s only a few people that I would consider mentors.

“A mentorship is something that both people have to want, both people have to want to kind of agree to enter into that. And it’s going to take a lot of time, energy and focus.”

The 11th-year NFL veteran said he has spent a lifetime trying to understand what it is to be a good teammate and to serve as an example in that regard.

He joined Tennessee in 2019 as the backup to Marcus Mariota and patiently waited until coaches made a change six games into that season. Once they did, he talked openly about how he kept thoughts to himself at times because he didn’t think it was his place to speak up if he was not the starter.

In college at Texas A&M, he played wide receiver some in games early in his career just so he could contribute even though he practiced regularly at quarterback.

“Going back to the time as a kid, playing youth sports, it’s been something that’s been important to me from the beginning, something that will always be important to me and something that I’ll try to instill in my kids as they start to play youth sports – being a great teammate,” Tannehill said. “When I say that, I mean trying to help out whether it’s on the field, off the field, supporting each other and just building those relationships.”

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He stressed that he and Willis already have forged a strong working relationship, one that extends beyond their time together in the meeting room and on the practice field.

Tannehill said that he reached out to Willis directly as soon as he was aware of the growing firestorm surrounding his thoughts about mentoring. Since they became teammates, he said, the two have texted regularly and have spent time together socially.

“He’s a good person, Tannehill said of Willis. “He’s a talented player. He’s coming off a great college career. So, we’re happy to have him.”

Tannehill said he resisted the urge to respond immediately to the criticism and hot takes regarding his comments because he expected anything he said would only fuel that fire. Since then, the draft day trade of wide receiver A.J. Brown has continued to make headlines, Willis had his say – he laughed off all the drama – during the team’s rookie orientation and the 2022 NFL schedule was released, among other things.

With the Titans now in phase three of their offseason program, he figured enough time had passed that a rational discussion of the issue was possible.

“We’re going to continue to push each other, to learn from each other in the (quarterback) 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 is everyone’s in this building.

“… It was just frustrating how everything kind of got spun. … When you get made out to be something you’re not and something you’re intentional about your whole career kind of gets thrown the other way, then it’s not a fun position to be in.”

There is no doubt that he is the Titans’ starting quarterback. For now.

Willis almost certainly will get the job eventually, regardless of how much Tannehill helps him along the way.