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Young facing high expectations to follow up on his amazing rookie season as Titans quarterback

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last year at this time the words used to describe Vince Young included off-target, potential and rookie.

Now? Try spectacular, impressive and leader.

Yes, the man who led the Texas Longhorns to a national championship then became the NFL's offensive rookie of the year goes into his second season with very high expectations.

No one who gets to watch Young up close is dousing the optimism.

"I expect big things out of him," center Kevin Mawae said. "He's playing a lot easier now and with a lot more confidence than this time last year. I think he's made great strides."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher expects that to show up where it counts most.

"We, and I say we, just hope it translates into more wins," Fisher said.

Following up a magical rookie season isn't easy in the NFL.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger followed up his offensive rookie of the year performance in 2004 by becoming the youngest starting quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. Clinton Portis ran for 1,591 yards in his second season as Denver went 10-6 in 2003.

Others found it tougher.

Mike Anderson stumbled from 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie with Denver to 678 yards and four TDs in 2001. Anquan Boldin had a knee injury his second year and caught 56 passes as Arizona went 6-10. Carnell Williams rushed for only 798 yards in his second year at Tampa Bay.

Young sounds eager for the challenge, insisting he can handle the pressure.

"There are a lot of different things that come with being a starting quarterback for a great football team, both off the field and on the field. I feel like it not only builds me up as an athlete, but also as a person and as a man," he said.

"I want to excel at my game and excel at my life, period. I'm 24 years old now and getting more mature every day. I've learned a lot from the older guys out here."

Perhaps only Roethlisberger can appreciate what Young faces - they are the only quarterbacks to win offensive rookie honors since 1957.

Young came to a franchise in full rebuilding mode after going 4-12 the previous season. He revived a team that started 0-5 by going 8-5 as a starter, taking the Titans within one game of their first playoff berth since 2003 with an 8-8 record. Five wins came with the Titans either tied or trailing in the fourth quarter.

Young provided some magical moments like faking Mathias Kiwanuka out of a sack on fourth-and-10 and running 19 yards in the 24-21 upset of the Giants after trailing by 21 in the fourth quarter. He also beat his hometown team in Houston by sprinting 39 yards for a TD in overtime.

He set an NFL rookie record for quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era by rushing for 552 yards, and became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least three touchdowns and throw for three TDs of 20 or more yards in his first season.

But Young has lots of room for improvement. He completed 51.5 percent of his passes, 70th out of all NFL players who threw a pass in 2006, and he had more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (12).

Offensive coordinator Norm Chow said Young spent time studying film to see what he could improve this offseason and had a lot to look at from his rookie season.

"I think he's doing a nice job. He's a lot more confident, and he's obviously a very good athlete, a very talented young man. Once we get him more comfortable, he'll be fine," Chow said.

The Titans, who never changed his unusual throwing motion, want Young to recognize defenses at the line to find the weak spots. They expect quicker decisions and more checkdowns, which they expect to result in more completions. Young is already showing results with much quicker throws.

Team officials signed 11-year veteran Eric Moulds as a dependable receiver before camp opened after letting Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade leave as free agents in March.

Young has also kept busy.

The man who will be on the cover of the Madden 2008 video game paid for his receivers to join him in Houston for a week of workouts this spring with his personal trainer and afternoons spent working on routes. He welcomed his teammates to training camp by leaving a letter in each locker.

"I just wanted to show them guys as one of the leaders on the team, as their quarterback, how I feel about the whole situation and how much I believe in those guys," Young said. "I hope they believe in me to go out and win games and make it to the playoffs."

It's all part of Young's competitiveness, something that spilled over last Wednesday when he took a swing at safety Donnie Nickey, who had leveled a couple of receivers while breaking up pass plays.

Mix that with his improvisational skills, and his teammates can't wait to see what happens next.

"Now the pressure for him is to be the guy he wants to be," Mawae said. "I think Vince will handle it just like he expects to."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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