Young primed for breakout season

AUSTIN -- The question everyone was asking Texas quarterback Vince Young in fall camp was: Have you fixed your release?

The answer Young had for everyone was: I've learned the offense.

The question and answer may seem mutually exclusive for the 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore. But they're not. Young was a redshirt freshman starting the final seven games of last season, and everyone blamed his difficulty connecting on short and intermediate passes on a near-sidearm release.

What Young and his mentor Steve McNair, quarterback of the Tennessee Titans, and Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis decided was that Young simply needed to work on his footwork to repair his release.

Young has spent the past four summers going to McNair's camp and getting one-on-one tutelage from McNair, who went to Alcorn State with Young's uncle, Ivory, and subsequently became close to the Young family.

What Young wasn't doing last season was setting his feet on short and intermediate passes, in part, because he was still learning the offense. There were times when Young couldn't even get UT's wordy terminology (some plays have 10 components) out of his mouth in the huddle.

"It's night and day from last year to this year," said Texas tight end David Thomas. "He's so much more confident in the huddle. And now he knows where's going with the ball so he can step into the throw."

Young is making better pre-snap reads so that he knows ahead of time which side of the field he's going to go through on his receiver progression. And he's sticking with his progression instead of tucking the ball and running -- something he is immensely qualified to do. He connected on 14-of-21 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown in a 65-0 victory over North Texas Saturday.

Despite starting just the seven games, Young still almost ran for 1,000 yards (998) with a 7.4 yards per carry average. Barring injury, he should easily bust the 1,000-yard barrier this season because Davis plans for Young "to run as much if not more than last year."

The bread-and-butter of Texas' Gun-n-Run offense is an option play out of the shotgun called the "zone read." Young and running back Cedric Benson line up in the gun and Young reads the defensive end on Benson's side to determine if Young will keep the ball or hand off to Benson. If the end crashes toward Benson, Young keeps. If the end plays contain, Young hands off to Benson. The Longhorns used a variation of the play 24 times against North Texas and ran for 513 yards against North Texas Saturday.

If Arkansas is going to stop the Longhorns Saturday night, the Razorbacks had better have an answer for that play.

Young is well aware of his doubters who take one look at his awkward release and write him off as a superior athlete with no hope of being an accurate passer.

"Listening to some people, I can't even throw the ball," Young said.

Those doubters obviously weren't paying attention to his statistics in 2003. Young had a better completion rate (58.7 percent) than UT senior quarterback Chance Mock (54.6), who is considered a prototypical drop-back passer.

Young also had a better completion rate on deep passes than Mock, according to coaches. Because of that, Texas coach Mack Brown wants at least one deep pass every quarter. Now the question is, how quickly can Young develop a relationship with an entirely new cast of receivers (gone are Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas)?

If Young can do that, the Longhorns' offense will be one of the most dangerous in the country.

Chip Brown covers the Big 12 for The Dallas Morning News.