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|Vince Young isn't the first quarterback in the NFL -- or on his own team, for that matter -- to face adversity.|
NASHVILLE -- These are the words of a Tennessee Titans quarterback:
"I felt the pressure and I was trying to be something and someone I wasn't. Being a first-round pick, being the quarterback, I felt I needed to be the whole deal. I did not understand the maturity it took. When you have early success, you are not thinking 10 years down the road, but now. When trouble comes, you can be shocked by it because of that early success. When you play early, there is no time to ease into it. Sometimes, a certain amount of perspective is needed about the whole thing. It can all get so involved that the mental aspects of it will play with you and play with your mind."
That sure sounds like Vince Young in 2008.
But that was Kerry Collins revisiting 1995.
Collins is the Titans' starting quarterback now. He battles to keep the Titans undefeated in four games when Minnesota (1-2) plays here Sunday. Young, nursing a knee injury and a bruised psyche, is healing and restoring.
But that is not going as smoothly as the Titans would like.
Sometimes Young is engaged, other times he is brooding and looks more troubled. Of the pile of problems he has dealt with in recent months, this week a new twist was added when ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said Titans coach Jeff Fisher told him that Fisher never wanted to draft Young but was forced into it by Titans owner Bud Adams. Hoge later revised his statement to say Fisher never said it.
When you have been where Young has been, and where he currently resides, any shot, real or imagined, stings.
The Titans hope that once the knee completely heals over the next few weeks, they once again will see that "bounce" in Young's game and persona. They are giving him room. And time.
But one of his teammates, requesting anonymity, said: "Vince is frustrated, and we understand that. Who wouldn't be? He is used to being on the big stage. He is used to being the man. It's pride. I think he believes he is that guy from Texas and that he is beyond some things. He expects to perform at a high level all of the time. But now he is dealing with injury and failure in the fans' eyes. He's still a winner. He can still be our guy. It won't help if he mopes around now. And we've got to keep reaching out to him and let him know that we are still behind him."
First, the Titans are looking for Young to do the reaching. The learning. The growing and maturing.
He might be watching Collins, as is the Titans' plan, to learn how a veteran quarterback handles the job. But according to Collins, he is not yet talking much about the process.
"We haven't talked a whole lot since everything went down," said Collins, whose locker is right next to Young's. "I respect that. Maybe he is giving me lots of space to concentrate on being the starter. Maybe he is just not ready. But when things like this happened to me, I had to reach out. He has to get there. It's his job to get there."
Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said no one should expect overnight success in Young's situation. Young had growing pains before he was injured, said Heimerdinger, and he will have growing pains whenever he returns. All young quarterbacks do, he said.
"It is a major change, what we are asking him to do," Heimerdinger said. "He has always been the best athlete on the field. He has always had the special ability to run like few can run when things are not there. When hurt, he can't run and move at will. There is a reluctance to go. It's a gamble. Then that ability that helps him make plays running and passing (that) others can't isn't there. I felt every week before he got hurt, he was growing. If everybody is patient enough, he will be fine. But I must say, he is a player where there doesn't seem to be a lot of patience with him on the outside. For some reason, it's just that way. And that is hard to figure."
Collins, said Heimerdinger, is not tough to figure.
"He is a competitor," Heimerdinger said. "Nothing flusters him. He has been through real adversity. And he appreciates being in this situation. He loves to play the game."
Young is 24.
Collins turns 36 in December.
Young is in his third NFL season. Collins is in his 14th.
Young was the third pick of the 2006 draft. Collins was the fifth pick of the 1995 draft, Carolina's first choice in its inaugural season.
In Tennessee's season-opening victory over Jacksonville here, Collins took over for Young late in the game and was later told by Fisher that the job would be his for the rest of the season if the Titans keep winning.
"It was like, here's the keys and off we go," Collins said.
He never thought this kind of chance would come again. Not like this. Not nearing the end of his career.
Not in such a possible, permanent way for 2008.
Collins has played for Carolina (1995-1998), New Orleans (1998), the Giants (1999-2003), Oakland (2004-2005) and the Titans (since 2006). He led the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game in the 1996 season, and helped lead the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV in 2001, when they lost to Baltimore.
Young replaced Collins as the Titans starter four games into the 2006 season.
But Collins kept working and preparing over the last two years -- just in case.
His battles with fan pressures, with alcohol, with being labeled a racist make him seasoned. Battle scarred. His commitment to outlast and defeat testy times makes him admired.
"God ... when I think about everything I've been through in football and beyond it, it would be a great book if I write it," Collins said. "It really would. I mean, a pretty remarkable book. But I could never write it, because if I did, I'd have to tell some things that people don't really need to know."
He said when he called a Carolina teammate a racial slur in a bar/restaurant on the last day of training camp in 1997, that mistake haunted him.
"That, to me, was the worst part of the whole thing I've experienced," Collins said. "The guys were talking to each other that way, and I was trying to be funny and thought I could do it, too. I was so upset by it. It was bad judgment. I could have been labeled a racist for the rest of my career. I had to live with the way I used that word with a teammate. Extremely poor judgment. I was naïve to think I could use that word in any context."
He would get a new chance with the Giants. And he revealed that for four of his five years in New York, he remained in therapy to deal with that issue and others.
"I knew that, OK, it was time to really talk to someone who could help me," Collins said. "As football players, we mask everything. But I got the counseling and stayed in it. It was one of the best things I ever did. Not just the football. Forget the football part of things. I had things I needed to work on for myself. I had to be humble enough to know I needed help. It was one of those situations where you couldn't see the forest for the trees."
"A true professional," receiver Justin McCareins said of Collins. "His biggest asset is his experience. He's played in big games. He knows his role on the team. He is always paying attention in getting to know guys in the locker room and on the field. And he's not just a solid guy -- he throws a heck of a ball."
Collins, in leading Tennessee to victory over Houston last Sunday, became only the 15th player in NFL history to throw for more than 35,000 yards. He has made 150 career starts. He has a 90.7 passer rating this season. He has been in seven playoff games, including his Super Bowl appearance.
He is a top pick who succumbed to pressures and rose from it to shine another day. He is a perfect model for Young.
"I have felt what he has felt," said Collins.
Young should grab a pen and paper and chat it up with Collins every day.
Complete locker room support does not come instantly, Collins said. He will continue working to build more trust and cohesion.
He is a starting NFL quarterback again. His life has changed.
"My daughter, Riley, is 4½," Collins said. "She is noticing her dad more on TV now. She sees me in those introductions on TV before games and says, 'Daddy, I saw you put in a little box.'
"One day I'll have to talk to her about the other side of it all, the part she hasn't experienced yet, when people are calling her daddy names. Hopefully, I won't have to do that for a while."
But since he has lived it, he knows it can be around the corner.
"When trouble comes, you have to do your part to right the ship," Collins said. "A lot of it is how you respond to it."