When Liberty QB Malik Willis was called to the podium to answer questions during the media breakfast, you can about imagine that he was mobbed by tons of national and local media members clamoring for his attention. Instead of trying to get one question in amongst the crowd, I opted to wait and interview other players before getting a hold of Willis as he became available for more personal interviews. Being the one who broke down Willis’ game tape for his prospect profile, Willis was one of the players this week I looked forward to speaking with.
JH: Good morning. My name is Jonathan. I work for Steelers Depot and I couldn’t help but notice your conversation with Mike Tomlin Kevin Colbert on the field the other day. Have you grown up watching the Steelers at all? Or have you talked to like obviously having that conversation with them? Have you watched anything about them or what kind of sticks out to you about them as an organization?
MW: I mean, you know, the Steelers are a team that everybody watches. I mean, I pretty much watch everybody on TV. But I mean, more than anything, it was cool to meet him in-person because I only seen him on Madden and on TV. It kind of freaked me out when he was like ‘Hey Malik!’ and I was like, ‘You talking to me?’ I mean, it was just surprising. I mean, it was a pretty good conversation.
JH: Absolutely. Now obviously they’re looking for a quarterback that now that Big Ben is retired. He wore #7 and you wore #7. How do you see yourself potentially fitting into that offense just knowing that they have a guys like Najee Harris or guys like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as a guy that, you know, can extend the plays with his legs but also has the arm talent to make things work as a passer? How do you think that you fit when you bring a skill set like that?
MW: I’m sure to be honest. I mean, I don’t know what type of offense they run. I mean, I don’t know their scheme or what they are trying to do to defenses, but, I mean, that’s definitely some weapons I could work with.
JH: Did you grow up a Steelers fan? Did you have a favorite team when you were growing up?
MW: Man, I grew up a Falcons fan right down the street. We used to go tailgate with my granddad and stuff. But I mean, I really watched NFL football until like college, or at least really watch it. Like I used to just be like it’s on TV, cool.
JH: Can you talk a little bit about your move from Auburn what you learned there during your time there and what you’re able to pick up as you became more of a leader on the field as well as more of a leader off the field when you went to Liberty?
MW: I mean, I felt like I got put in a position where I had to sit out and I had to learn how to lead without playing. I mean, that was definitely a tough adjustment. I never had to do that before. I will always get people to follow me by going out here and making plays but I had to get people to follow me by just being a leader in general. When I was redshirted because I couldn’t play on Saturdays, but I practice every day and I work out and stuff. I think that was a really cool thing that helped me mature as well.
JH: Absolutely. Would you characterize yourself as a guy that is a well-spoken, outgoing leader in terms of being vocal, or do you kind of try to lead more by example, or a little bit of a mixture between the two?
MW: Definitely a mixture between the two. I just don’t believe in yelling for no reason. Like that’s annoying, for real.
It was good to walk away from the interview having Willis acknowledge his conversation with Coach Tomlin, suggesting he was surprised that he wanted to talk to him personally. Willis not only spoke to Tomlin, but it was confirmed that Willis spoke with Tomlin, GM Kevin Colbert, and OC Matt Canada on the practice field.
Tomlin also spoke with the Willis family following the first day of practice. Couple that with the fact that Tomlin and Colbert were up close and personal with Willis, Sam Howell, and Bailey Zappe for much of the throwing session, it’s pretty obvious that the interest is there from the Steelers brass to at least do their due diligence. Willis’ eyes lit up talking about the encounter, seemed taken aback by the fact that Tomlin wanted to talk to him on the practice field. The way he spoke about that moment, I came away certain of Willis’ respect for Tomlin as a coach as well as a person.
Not much else was shared in the brief interview with Willis before he had to leave for other scheduled events. It was a little interesting that he acknowledged he didn’t watch NFL football growing up which might rub some people the wrong way. However, his comment about tailgating with his grandfather at Falcons games and the fact that his family was there to support him suggest he is a family guy that is fairly grounded when it comes to his upbringing.
He acknowledged just as much when asked about his transfer and redshirt season, stating that experience helped him mature into the man he is today and learn how to be a leader by the way he conducts his business on a day-in/day-out basis.
I initially thought Willis wasn’t very engaged during the interview, but after going back over it several times, I now see that he is more of a soft-spoken young man that tends to let his play speak for himself and handles himself well considering the long days and endless questions he is getting during this process. Time will tell if the Pittsburgh Steelers are indeed as interested in Willis as they are letting on. However, when Pittsburgh has been heavily interested in players in the past like Najee Harris, Devin Bush, and even Bud Dupree, they do a real bad job of hiding it.
Tomlin has stressed mobility as a key factor at the QB position for months, and Willis has showcased that in spades both in college and in his play here in Mobile. Should Willis be there at #20 overall come the 2022 NFL Draft, Tomlin may get his wish with a dynamic dual-threat QB that has the upside for more.
What are your thoughts on QB Malik Willis and his interview? Do you find the interest from the Steelers in Willis genuine? What would he do for the Pittsburgh offense and is he work the risk at #20? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!