NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Get ready for Vince Young, version 3.0.
The quarterback who waltzed into the NFL as the top offensive rookie of 2006 using his sheer physical ability watched as defenses adapted and slowed him down during his second season -- even as he became the youngest player in franchise history to lead a team into the playoffs.
Now coming into his third season, Young is ready to show how hard he has worked to improve.
"I'm feeling more comfortable reading the defenses a little faster, getting the ball out of my hand, making good throws," Young said. "I've come a long way, definitely come a long way. I've still got some work to go."
The pressure is on Young to do just that and take his Titans back to the playoffs for a second straight year.
Of the 53 quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 1983 and 2006, Young became the 11th to take his team to the playoffs in either his first or second season, He joined the ranks of Dan Marino, John Elway, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning at the age of 24 years, 233 days.
Young now is 17-11 as a starter, and he did manage to improve his passing percentage from 51.5 percent as a rookie to 62.3 percent in 2007.
But the 10-6 record came more from a great run game and a stingy defense. Young had more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (9) with two games where he couldn't throw for more than 78 yards last season. That's why coach Jeff Fisher fired Norm Chow and brought back Mike Heimerdinger as offensive coordinator to help Young tap more into his talent.
Heimerdinger said Young has a lot ahead of him in what will be a long career.
"For the next couple years, there's going to be stuff he's never seen. We're throwing a new offense at him. We're throwing new ideas at him, so that's going to be a growing situation that'll go next year and the next year. There'll be a time he gets bored meeting with me, but that's way down the line," said Heimerdinger, who left Denver to return to the job he held between 2000 and 2004.
Heimerdinger has focused on improving Young's footwork, trying to make sure the 6-foot-5, 233-pound quarterback has his feet set properly to improve his accuracy. So far, the coordinator sees Young being more accurate than what he saw on film from last year.
"We've had sessions out here on the practice field where we're working with those types of things, and we'll continue to do that. We have a pretty good idea of how people want to defend him and where the problems lie, so we address them to make it easier on him," Fisher said.
Young is working to better recognize different blitzes and throw the ball downfield more.
"And when it's not there, definitely do what they do by drafting me, and that's using my legs and making something happen with that as well," Young said.
Young has 10 touchdowns rushing in his first two seasons, leading all NFL quarterbacks in that time. But he ran for fewer yards on more carries in 2007 than as a rookie, hampered by a strained quadriceps suffered Oct. 14 that lingered.
He's healthy now in an offseason that had him go back to college at Texas and continue working on his degree while unveiling a new shoe with Reebok -- the VY Electrify, complete with his own commercial. He also had to deal with photos that showed up on the Internet last spring showing him shirtless and apparently drinking from a liquor bottle.
That didn't stop Young from frequently flying into Nashville from Austin, Texas, to work with Heimerdinger on his own skills and learning a new offense.
"I want to get better," Young said.
His teammates have noticed.
Receiver Justin McCareins, signed last offseason to give Young a new target, called the quarterback smart and confident, with a strong arm.
"He loves to throw it deep. ... He's a complete quarterback, and you've got to be ready for it at any position on any play. He may go up to you," McCareins said.
Left tackle Michael Roos said Young seems more confident at the line of scrimmage, making checks and changing calls, in charge of the offense.
Veteran center Kevin Mawae sees a quarterback ready to retaliate with his own counterpunch for opposing defenses.
"Everybody sees it," Mawae said. "Anytime your quarterback can bring that temperament into the huddle, it only makes for a better chance of having success. There's never been a doubt in our locker room or in our huddle that Vince is the guy that can get the job done. He's shown it over and over again, and this is just going to add to him."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press