EAGAN, Minn. -- Throughout the Vikings' 2023 offseason, some of the same topics have dominated the airwaves and sidelines: Kirk Cousins' connection with Justin Jefferson, Alexander Mattison's takeover at running back, Brian Flores' aggressive defense. Finally, this week, some of those storylines were put to the test thanks to joint practices with the visiting Titans.
"With our offense, they obviously know what we're trying to do," fourth-year safety Josh Metellus told CBS Sports on Thursday. "They're trying to work certain things as well. You never really get a true feel for how our defense actually plays. But going against another team and they have no idea what we're doing, you kinda get a feel for it."
By joint-practice standards, Thursday's affair was physically tame, even with Titans lineman Teair Tart leaving early due to a scuffle with Garrett Bradbury. Windy conditions at the Vikings' TCO Performance Center kept the big-play passing to a minimum. But as Metellus said, lining up against an external opponent helped shed light on the best -- and worst -- of each squad.
Here's a rundown of observations from Thursday's practice:
Will Levis flashes in uneven day that ends early
Anecdotally, it's not hard to see why Tennessee invested a second-round pick in Will Levis. The Kentucky product looks the part, and he often appears to have the most zip on his passes among Titans quarterbacks in individual drills. He can be very snappy with his motions. But a few times Thursday, Levis also rushed throws, including a sidearm attempt in footwork drills. Under pressure against Minnesota, he was just as erratic. He later quietly exited practice early with an undisclosed issue.
Malik Willis entrenched as the Titans' No. 2
For the near future, at least. After Levis' uneven preseason debut, Willis remained in front on the practice depth chart, and his mobility brought a different dimension to Tennessee's offense in red-zone drills. After practice, he told CBS Sports that he's entering 2023, his second NFL season, with more confidence after spending much of his rookie year on the bench.
"It's a day-by-day effort," he said of his growth. "It's a lot more than 'this year, next year.' It's a day-by-day effort. If you're gonna believe, you gotta believe whether (things are) good, bad or indifferent ... and take advantage of the opportunities you're given. Because as long as you wake up, you got another one. ... That's probably what I've learned the most, just not comparing (myself) to anybody, just understanding I need to be grateful for waking up each day and getting another opportunity, another swing at it."
Titans leaning on the ground (as usual)
Thursday's windy weather didn't help Ryan Tannehill and Co. establish much rhythm against Flores' "D," but it shouldn't come as a surprise that Mike Vrabel's squad remains committed to an old-school offensive approach. New No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins was a sight to behold on occasion, notably punting a ball into a crowd of Vikings fans after a red-zone score, but the Titans still run through Derrick Henry, and Minnesota knew it: "They're trying to be physical, trying to get the ball downhill, run the ball, use their strengths," Vikings safety Josh Metellus said. "They've got good backs, good tight ends, so they wanna go big personnel."
Scouting Vikings vs. Titans QBs
Metellus also offered his perspective on each team's veteran signal-callers, and how they differ:
Ryan Tannehill and Kirk (Cousins), I would say they're pretty similar in some ways, in terms of just mobility. But (then) Malik Willis and Will Levis, they moved the pocket a little more than we were used to, just going against Kirk. But I think Kirk's ball placement is something that just stands above on a different level. I think Ryan does a great job commanding the team and knowing where to go with the ball, but I think Kirk, just putting the ball where he wants it, just takes him up to another level.
- The Vikings lost rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon to an arm injury during red-zone drills. Blackmon, who's been seeing time behind starters Byron Murphy and Akayleb Evans, was consoled by defensive coordinator Brian Flores before exiting.
- Murphy saw a few red-zone snaps at slot corner, with Evans and former Patriots veteran Joejuan Williams manning the outside CB roles in Flores' defense. Metellus featured heavily as a third safety alongside Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum.
- Titans CB Kristian Fulton had an eye-opening one-handed pick of Cousins in the corner of the end zone, eliciting a big celebration from the Tennessee sideline.
- Tannehill came up ever-so gimpy during team drills, appearing to hurt an ankle, but didn't miss any snaps and appeared fully healthy when the two sides closed practice, staying afterward to talk with Cousins and Willis.