Vince Young's recent proclamation about his desire to reclaim the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback job has drawn raised eyebrows from NFL observers, but cynics should pause before completely dismissing his argument. The 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year has recovered from a tumultuous 2008 season and is ready to resume his role as the Titans' franchise quarterback.
Young, a 2006 Pro Bowler with an 18-11 career record as a starter, lost his job last season after suffering a knee injury in Week 1. Though Young fully recovered from the knee injury several weeks later, the Titans opted to stick with veteran Kerry Collins after he guided the team to a surprising 10-0 start.
With the Titans thriving under Collins' guidance, Young was relegated to backup duty and saw action in just three games during the season. Young's road back to the starting job was further hindered when the team elected to re-sign Collins to a two-year, $15 million contract with $8.5 million in guarantees and named him the starter heading into 2009.
However, Titans coach Jeff Fisher left the door cracked for Young by stating earlier in the offseason that his young quarterback could "earn back his starting job" during training camp. With that statement, Fisher created a quarterback competition that could wind up being much closer than most anticipate.
Before sizing up the two quarterbacks, it is important to note that the Titans are built around their tenacious defense and a formidable power running game.
The Titans' intent in every game is to wear down the opponent with their physical style. Offensively, that means a steady diet of power runs by Chris Johnson and LenDale White. After establishing that duo, offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger loves to mix in an assortment of high-percentage play-action passes, using the tight end as the featured target.
Though Heimerdinger occasionally will take shots down the field, the Titans' passing game is a ball control-based system rather than an explosive, high-scoring scheme. The quarterback plays a secondary role in the offense and is viewed more as a game manager than a playmaker.
In looking at Young's game, his strengths revolve around his superior athleticism and improvisational skills. He is at his best when he flees the pocket and creates offense on the fly.
Young proved to be a master of improvisation as a rookie when he led the Titans back from an 0-5 start (he didn't start the first three games) to an 8-8 record. Although Young completed just 51.5 percent of his passes for 2,199 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, he rushed for 552 yards and seven scores. His proclivity for making plays outside of the pocket had some regarding Young as an up-and-coming superstar.
However, defenses caught up with Young's act during his second season, and he struggled while trying to play as a more conventional quarterback. While his completion percentage improved to 62.3 percent in 2007, his interception total surged to 17, and he finished with 20 total turnovers.
In addition, Young failed to display the elusiveness and running skills that made him such a dangerous weapon as a rookie. Young tallied just 395 rushing yards with three scores as he selectively scrambled from the pocket when the rush caved in on him. Nonetheless, Young led the Titans into the playoffs and tallied a 9-6 record as a starter.
Vince Youngwants to be the Titans' starting quarterback, but as of now, that job belongs toKerry Collins. Take a look at how the two compare over the past two seasons:
Kerry Collins (2008)
Passer Rating: 80.2
Passing Yards: 2,676
Rushing Yards: 49
Rushing TDs: 0
Vince Young (2007)
Passer Rating: 71.1
Passing Yards: 2,546
Rushing Yards: 395
Rushing TDs: 3
In Collins, the Titans have a savvy veteran with lots of experience. That proved to be invaluable as he guided the team to a league-best 13-3 record last year. With the Titans boasting the seventh-best rushing attack and the second-ranked scoring defense in the league, Collins simply had to make a handful of plays in the passing game to keep defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage. The 14-year veteran completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,676 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions for an 80.2 rating.
While those numbers aren't eye-popping, they were good enough to complement the Titans' formidable ground attack. Throw in the team's exceptional record, and it's hard to justify rewarding Young with his job back.
However, the Titans should keep Young foremost in their long-term plans. Although his inaccuracies as a passer continue to be a major problem, Young has made strides as a thrower in his young career. His yards per attempt rose between his first and second season (from 6.2 in 2006 to 6.7 in 2007), and he has pushed the ball down the field with moderate success (24 completions over 20 yards in 2007).
Those numbers are comparable with the statistics that Collins compiled as the Titans' starter a season ago (he averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and had 33 completions over 20 yards). In addition, Young passed for over 200 yards in four games in 2007 -- the same number of games that Collins surpassed the mark in 2008.
History also suggests that the Titans should remain patient with Young during his maturation process. His plight as a passer is eerily similar to that of his predecessor, Steve McNair, in a Titans uniform. In his first two seasons as a full-time starter, McNair threw 23 interceptions and completed just 55.7 percent of his passes. Nevertheless, McNair shook off the inconsistent start to become a three-time Pro Bowler and eventually led the team to its only AFC championship.
The same could be possible with Young at the helm if he shows he can be the player and leader that the Titans expected when they made him the third overall selection in the 2006 draft.
Young has flashed that immense talent at times, but he also has displayed an immaturity that has weakened his stature inside the Titans' locker room. And he can only regain that status by performing well when the lights come on in the fall.
The NFL has been and always will be a place where you get what you earn, and Young has to understand that his play will speak louder than his words.