Aug 11, 2011, 2:18 PM EDT
Amid the free agent frenzy two weeks ago, we didn’t have a chance to go in-depth and under the hood of every signing, and the reality is we probably won’t. There was one guy in particular I wanted to talk about though, and since his name is already in the headline, let’s proceed.
A little more than five years ago, like many of you probably, I was watching one of the most incredible Rose Bowls college football has ever seen. Texas QB Vince Young, who was already no stranger to huge games on the grandest of stages, was delivering one of the hands-down, most impressive individual performances ever seen on a college football field, throwing for 267 yards and rushing for another 200 in a 41-38 win over USC to secure a National Championship.
Young was obviously an incredible athlete, as evidenced by his being able to run for 200 yards at 6-5, 232 lbs. I also marveled at his ability as a passer though. He was accurate, completing 75% of his passes; he protected the ball, committing zero turnovers; and he showed incredible pocket presence, taking off when absolutely necessary, but also occasionally sliding one step away from the rush to deliver a perfect pass.
I remember remarking he was like Tom Brady on wheels.
Vince Young’s stock has certainly plummeted since that night. He was the third overall pick in the draft that April, with a bright future seemingly assured as Tennessee’s franchise quarterback. Then two weeks ago, the team released him, and now he’s a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. What the heck happened?
Well, a lot of things, and we’ll get in to some of that. However, we don’t want to rehash VY’s life story, but instead examine the football side of the equation. Is he a good football player? Can he improve? Is he the right fit for the Birds? If you haven’t familiarized yourself with his intriguing up-and-down career, some of the answers might surprise you.
This Guy Is No Bum…
… as some observers would have you believe. Looking at Vince Young from a pure numbers standpoint, I’m not sure how anybody could conclude that. And yes, statistics can be deceiving, but what about that 30-17 won-loss record as the starter?
Like many inexperienced quarterbacks, Young’s NFL career got off to a slow start. Though he was the Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler in 2006, Young’s passing stats didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and he showed modest improvement at best the following season. 2008 is when everything changed for the worse for the promising signal caller though.
Young suffered a knee injury in Week 1, and was supplanted by veteran and former Nittany Lion Kerry Collins. Head coach Jeff Fisher decided early on that Collins gave them the best chance to win now, and he was probably right. While Young moped and go involved in some strange drama, the fifth overall pick of the ’95 draft led Tennessee to a 13-3 record, and earned a post-season bye. That would have been a tough act to top.
Yet this is where VY gets a tough shake. Even though Collins’ ability was fading fast, and Young should have had every opportunity to pick up where he left off as the QB of the future the next year, Fisher let the Titans begin the ’09 campaign 0-6 before he finally reinserted Young into the lineup. The amazing part is with Young at the helm, the Titans won eight of their final 10 games.
Young had seemingly become a different quarterback after his time on the bench, and here are the numbers to prove it:
He was in the midst of taking his game to a higher level. Major improvements in yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio, sacks taken, and passer rating, along with minor strides in completion and win percentages.
However, after suffering a thumb injury during a game last season, the rift between Young and Fisher became irreparable. Young wanted to go back into the game, but Fisher would not allow him to reenter. After the game, the quarterback walked out of the locker room, never to play for the team again. So in other words, it’s not like he was dismissed for poor play.
That Was Tennessee, This Is Philadelphia
Let’s also keep in mind how different the situation was with the Titans compared to here. When Vince Young was struggling to find his way as a young NFL quarterback, he wasn’t exactly surrounded by talent.
His top receivers consisted of Justin Gage, Roydell Williams, Drew Bennett, and Bobby Wade–nobody memorable. They even gave a washed up Eric Moulds a try. Likewise, the running game came to be headlined by LenDale White, he of the constant weight problems. Young’s only consistent target through the years was tight end Bo Scaife, and he’s not exactly a superstar.
Today they have Chris Johnson, and Kenny Britt is emerging as a dangerous wide receiver (both on and off the field), but that’s still far from being loaded with talent. Compare that to the faces that would be looking back at him in the Eagles huddle: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Jason Avant, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith…
Night and day.
Even the coaching staff here presents Young with a greater chance to succeed. Rather than the defensive minded Fisher, who at one time had farmed the offensive coordinator job out to a college coach, VY will be surrounded by Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, in a system that has made practically every quarterback not named Mike McMahon look good.
And coming to work with Vick, who Young no doubt greatly respects, and who also had to learn how to put in the extra effort to be great, should be just another bonus. More weapons. Better coaching. Greater resolve. What do you think those statistics from above would look like after spending a few seasons in midnight green?
West Coast Quarterback?
My only major concern with VY in an Eagles uniform has nothing to do with numbers or ability, work ethic or attitude. It’s fit. In five pro seasons and three in college, Young has never run a west coast style offense, and as we always make sure to note in any lengthy diatribe about quarterbacks, the system is regarded as complex and takes time to learn.
All questions about his intelligence aside, it would be fair to wonder if any QB could pick this up over such a short period of time and be ready to step into action if needed. Since we’re talking about a guy who it was at one time rumored scored a six on the Wonderlic–a test NFL prospects take at the combine (and six being, ahem, not good)–naturally we’re more than a little curious how quickly he can be versed enough to perform. By the way, it was later revealed he actually scored a 16 out of a possible 50.
I’m not so sure in a certain scenario, Mike Kafka is not still their guy. That may sound crazy, in part because we don’t really know anything about him, but he may be more prepared for this role from the mental aspect. He’s got a year in the system, and based on his college career at Northwestern, just seems like a gamer.
Of course, all these questions about Young’s IQ are a little ridiculous. Until I sit down and speak to the guy, I don’t pretend to know how intelligent he is, and even if we deduce based on some of his life decisions that he doesn’t have the most common sense in the world, one doesn’t necessarily need to be real world-smart in order to be football-smart.
But the fact is, I would worry about any younger, free agent quarterback arriving in late July and having the offense down in time to be a proper backup.
Look How That Vick Thing Turned Out Though
Overall, I still think it’s a great signing, even if Vince Young never plays a down for the Eagles. If nothing else, it shows their continued willingness to
assemble as much talent as possible, year in, year out.
More importantly, I think it’s great for their reputation around the NFL, particularly among the players. We’ve already witnessed the long list of guys clamoring to play in Philadelphia, and as we expressed previously, some of that has to do with how they helped Vick when he was in just the most miserable situation possible.
Young’s situation is nothing like that at all, but he does have an image badly in need of rehabilitation. Look no further than all the words we needed to convince people that this guy–a two-time Pro Bowler with a 30-17 won-loss record, the former third overall pick in the draft– that he can really play. Something is wrong here.
Maybe he will never get in back on track to the point where he is leading a team to the Super Bowl as you might have imagined in 2006, but honestly, he might not have too far to go. And here’s hoping we don’t have to find out this year, as the Eagles poise themselves to make their own run at the big stage. Still, I have to admit… I like the insurance policy.
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