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|Vince Young played in just three games for the Titans during the 2008 season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
When Vince Young was preparing for his pro day and the draft, he enlisted retired NFL assistant coach Jerry Rhome, who had worked as Steve McNair's first offensive coordinator.
"I told all my friends, 'Vince is going to surprise everybody and play earlier than everybody thinks,' " Rhome said this week, recalling his time with Young. "And he did. I really thought he'd be off and running. What happened after that, well, I'm no longer in the inner circle."
What happened was that as teams started to figure how to lean on Young and make things difficult, the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year didn't appear equipped to push back. In the 2008 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a flustered Young had to be forced to return to play in the fourth quarter and eventually was injured. By that time, the Tennessee Titans were ready to hand the offense to Kerry Collins. The much-travelled Collins' efficient play and effective leadership were big parts of a 13-3 season that flamed out with an early playoff exit, and he got a new two-year contract to return.
Young said not long ago he would shut up and smile as he tried to position himself to be a contributor again. But at the start of this week he indicated if he can't get the starting job back, it might be time for him to move on. [Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, unsurprisingly, reacted to the comments as a non-development and said the Titans aren't looking to move him. If a suitor called, I'm pretty sure they would answer the phone.]
Regarding Young's latest comments, Rhome wasn't surprised.
"That comes in really every quarterback's life if he is not starting and he's young and he feels like he should be," Rhome said. "That comes out pretty quick where, 'Well, if I'm not going to play, I hope they'll do something about moving me to another team.' That's been going on since back in the '50s and '60s and I don't blame him. He feels like he's a quality player. And I don't blame Tennessee. They did what they had to do, they're in the business to win. He got hurt and he was struggling a little bit and the other guy came in and played his [expletive] off."
I'm not convinced about Young's trade value considering he's due a $4.25 million roster bonus next year and will have a cap number of more than $14 million.
But former Denver Broncos GM Ted Sundquist said trading for Young has upside. The receiving team would get a relatively inexpensive year -- Young is due a $2.16 million base salary this season -- in which to evaluate him and determine if he's the future. The Titans might reap a third-round pick -- or even a second-rounder -- from a trade partner, Sundquist speculated.
"If you were willing to give up a second-rounder, you might say, 'Look, there is no way that I could find the talent that Vince Young has [elsewhere],'" Sundquist said. "It's hard for me to fathom that all 32 clubs and all the people that get involved in the evaluation process during the course of a draft cycle were all wrong about Vince Young. I think we all saw the potential there athletically. He performed at a very high level at a very competitive college conference. There is something there. Why has it not come out in Tennessee?"
Sundquist reasons that even if the Titans are ready to "cut bait and run," they still might find a team that sees franchise quarterback qualities in Young. And even for the team that acquires Young, "it might not be so bad," Sundquist said.
"Even on a one-year trial basis, it'd be worth it. Because if you did hit, even though he's got the bonus due and an escalating salary, it's still almost cheaper than trying to go and draft another one high in the first round."
Sundquist thinks the Titans would now be best off entertaining any and all offers for a trade.
I believe it's much more likely that Young is on the Titans' roster this season as Collins' backup or ranks as the No. 3 behind Collins and Patrick Ramsey. If Young is outplayed by Ramsey in the Titans' five-game preseason and the Titans are convinced he cannot help and know they won't be paying him what he's scheduled to make in 2010, I think it's possible they'd let him go.
Rhome said Young has changed his phone number several times, and the periodic check-ins have ended.
I'd suggest Young try to reconnect with Rhome, a guy he trusted. Rhome can be a helpful sounding board outside his inner circle and outside team headquarters.
In fact, Rhome could be a big piece of this five-part plan for Young to make the best possible effort to rehabilitate his career.
1) Surround himself with critics who care.
I wrote Wednesday that it might be time for Young to change to an agent with significant experience with a big-name quarterback. Such an agent would be able to monitor if there is a team that would like to take a shot with Young and then could help try to orchestrate an exit if he thought that was best. If there is no move to be made, a new representative could earn his money by helping steer Young, giving him a plan, offering advice on how to handle himself with coaches, teammates, the media and fans.
|Jamie Squire/Getty Images|
|Vince Young has been more productive when he's been able to get outside of the pocket.|
"To me, it's pretty simple," said one veteran agent. "If there is a team out there that would want to trade for him to be a starter, you start to push for that to happen. If not, you tell him he has to go in and have an unbelievable training camp, play great every chance he gets. It's not like there is a 25-year-old in front of him. They want you to be the starter long term. They'd love for you to come in and play lights out and prove you're the starter of the future."
Who else can guide VY? Well, his relationship with McNair doesn't appear to be what it once was. If Young could reconnect with McNair and ask his old mentor to be brutally honest with him, McNair could be a big help. An agent, Rhome and McNair could compose a solid new brain trust for Young at a time where he needs blunt assessments from people he trusts.
2) Interview Collins consistently.
When things got difficult for Young, it was easy to point out that he had a phenomenal resource right next to him in the locker room. Collins is a pro who's been through a lot of hard times and fought through them to salvage a solid and long career, winning the respect of coaches, teammates and fans along the way.
Young has talked about watching Collins, but I think he took Jeff Fisher too literally when Fisher said he needed to watch how a veteran works. Fisher was advising Young to talk to and listen to Collins as well. There are no indications that Young has come close to developing any relationship like that with Collins.
So instead of only talking about what receiver was the right option on that last play or what sort of coverage a defense has been playing, Young should sit down with Collins over lunch and start building a strong relationship. That conversation could start with this simple question from Young: "If you were me, what would you be doing right now to try to revive your career?"
3) Study as hard as humanly possible to get better at recognizing defenses.
I can't pretend to know the details of Young's study habits. But from a football standpoint, the criticism you hear most often from insiders is that a game plan for Young must be very limited. He's not able to read and recognize what defenses are trying to do and make the necessary adjustments.
He's been around Titans headquarters regularly this offseason, as opposed to last year when he spent a lot of time back at Texas working toward his degree. But if he hasn't been taking stuff home with him and putting in hours watching film and trying to better learn to dissect defenses, he's missing an opportunity. And whether he's in Nashville or at a second NFL stop, he's going to have to be significantly better in this department to have a shot to play and succeed.
4) Come to terms with the idea no one is turning over the keys to the offense and saying, "We'll just run what you do best and let you do your thing."
That's what happened at Texas, and we know what happened from there: a national championship season that ended with a Rose Bowl performance for the ages.
But if Young is thinking the same sort of scenario is going to play out in the NFL, he's mistaken. Coaches like to build to their key players' strengths, but they are also paid to coach, not to hand over control.
"If you're a coach, put yourself in the two different situations," Rhome said. "In college, he's got one or two years left, you turn him loose and you don't worry about what's going to happen later because he's gone. In pro ball, it might be 10 years. Your team has to have structure, you can't just turn him loose. He's got to follow the game plan, he's got to be sound. ... Coach Fisher is a great defensive coach and he wants to play it close to the vest. And so Vince has to learn how to play it a bit closer to the vest."
Said Sundquist: "I don't think he's being used in a manner that was reflective of what his talents were in college. A big, strong quarterback, let him get outside the pocket and run around and throw the football. But if you're in a drop-back system -- and I know [Titans offensive coordinator] Mike Heimerdinger really well, he was in Denver -- that was one of his concerns as an offensive coordinator with
Jake Plummer; Jake's ability to stand in the pocket, make the reads, throw the football.
"That's what Mike's offense is predicated around and Jake was most successful with us when we got him outside the pocket on rollout and play-action scenarios. Ultimately, it ended up not working with Jake under that. I know that's the same struggle Tennessee is having with Vince. Sit in the pocket, get rid of the football, make good decisions. For whatever reason, he has not been able to develop to the degree that they had hoped."
I believe Young thinks the Titans owe him more of a chance and could adapt to him more. With the money he's pocketed and the production the team has gotten for it, I'd argue he owes them.
5) Edit himself and make a plan. In every media situation, run through what he'll likely be asked. Compare how he would respond in the past to how he should respond in the future.
The Titans have a more-than-capable public relations staff to advise him, but he has to want to listen. This is the same guy who once told "60 Minutes," "Can't nobody tell me nothing." Perhaps a new agent would do well advising him in this department or put him with someone who could help apply more polish.
In recent media interaction, Young seems to have backed off the huffing and eye-rolling that were once commonplace when he faced questions from people who didn't want to throw rose petals at his feet. Still, he can contradict himself and be nonsensical in interviews.
Anticipating questions, actually listening to them and not going on to autopilot really can help him, but he must realize that is of value. Like it or not, the people asking those questions are an intermediary between him and the fans. He can sell himself a lot better and make himself a lot more of a sympathetic figure by working at his occasional 10 minutes in front of cameras, microphones and notepads.
I don't expect Young to hit on the play-me-or-trade-me idea any further or attempt to be a disruption. If Collins is healthy and effective, Young would have to be content to be a backup again. Any complaints over his role will amount to background noise.