Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Young's aim: Evolve from thrower to passer
By Len Pasquarelli
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On the day that "Madden NFL 08" was rolled out in a nationwide marketing blitz, the cover subject for the latest incarnation of the wildly popular video game was questioned Tuesday about his skill level.
Replied Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, with nary a hint of braggadocio: "Come check me out."
Young was talking, of course, about his ability as a gamer. Had the query concerned his prowess as a baller, however, the response from the 2006 offensive rookie of the year likely wouldn't have been any different.
Supremely confident, Young presents an even more graphic image in real life than he does as some computer-generated, whirling dervish quarterback. One doesn't really require a hand-held game control to have the former University of Texas star perform all manner of derring-do on a football field.
"You watch him from the [defensive] side of the ball," said Titans cornerback Nick Harper, who faced Young twice last season as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, "and you're kind of thinking, 'OK, so what can he do to top that?' And then, well, he does something even better. And he does it [effortlessly]. It just happens. I know people are asking, like, 'What's he do for an encore now?' They'll see. He's going to be better.
"The man is just a pure playmaker."
Whether the breathtakingly gifted Young is a better quarterback in 2007, however, remains to be seen. For the first six seasons in the career of the now-sullied Michael Vick, the same questions that confront Young swirled around the Atlanta star. Vick has a career completion mark of 53.8 percent. But in his first season as a starter, he completed 54.9 percent of his attempts, or 3.4 percent better than Young managed in 2006.
The lack of a potent pass rush will likely prevent the Titans from featuring the Tampa 2 scheme. Check out what else Len Pasquarelli observed at Titans camp.
• Observation deck
• Training camp index
In fact, there were six starts last season in which Young completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. But there was also a three-game span, which came in the midst of the Titans' six-game winning streak, when Young connected at a 64.7-percent clip. Young might never be consistently in that high-altitude range, but he and Titans coaches believe it is more indicative of his potential as a passer.
Even some of Young's detractors admit that he has the tools to be more than just a marvelous athlete who happens to play quarterback.
There is a widely held suspicion in the league suggesting that now that coordinators have had a look at Young and better understand how to defend him, he will slip in 2007. Even offensive coordinator Norm Chow conceded this spring that defenses "are not going to just let him run around" and that his star pupil "better throw some completions."
But the Titans insist their quarterback has just scratched the surface as a passer.
"I would think he's going to be a guy who, through his whole career, will be able to make plays with his legs, and that's an exciting [dimension]," coach Jeff Fisher said Tuesday. "But he'll also make plenty of plays, believe me, with his arm."
Young's full aerial repertoire was displayed Tuesday. While he demonstrated great arm strength on some inside slant routes, and in particular on a post-corner double-move by wide receiver Brandon Jones in the morning session, Young also flashed pretty nice touch at times. He deftly lofted a ball to tight end Bo Scaife in the right front corner of the end zone that floated tantalizingly over the fingertips of a linebacker.
Young acknowledged he is evolving from a thrower into a passer. He understands every pitch need not be a fastball.
"You don't have to throw it hard all the time," Young said. "You have to throw it well. Make the reads, get the ball out of your hand quickly, go to the right place."
And Chow, having come to grips with the full potential of the player he is charged with developing, understands now that he must craft his offense around the strengths of his quarterback. Chow acknowledged to The (Nashville) Tennessean earlier this year that he too often tried to force conformity from Young in 2006. In the offseason, the creative coordinator started making changes to dovetail with the well-rounded skills of his quarterback.
"You can definitely see him maturing [as a passer]," said veteran wide receiver Eric Moulds, signed just before camp to add stability to a position that needed an upgrade.
Teammates agree that Young is maturing as a leader despite two recent incidents. Young punched teammate Donnie Nickey during a practice in which he felt the safety was too physical with wide receiver Courtney Roby, and he was held out of last Saturday's preseason opener by Fisher because he spent the night before the game sleeping at home instead of at the team hotel.
At the outset of training camp, Titans players found a letter in their locker stalls from Young thanking them for their contributions to his success as a rookie. He has been more vocal in the huddle, more passionate in demanding excellence from himself and his receivers and more animated on the field and in team meetings.
Those things come with playing and succeeding at quarterback, said Young, who seems to comprehend that the job description entails more than just physical skills. Being the cover boy for the Madden game is one thing.
But becoming The Man here, the face of this franchise, takes more.
2006 Season Stats
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.