Vince Young: Reports Of His Career Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Vince Young: Reports Of His Career Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Most fans regard Vince Young as toast. A classic bust of a draft pick who may be cut in training camp and certainly will be released by next season. This is not surprising as most fans rely on the media for their information, and the media drumbeat about Young being an NFL failure has been going on since before he was even drafted.

Simply put: the media has had it out for Young since day one. That is why they magnify his failures, ignore his successes (posting a record of 18-11 with an absolutely dreadful team, and in the process saving his coach from getting fired) and practically ignore the shortcomings of players they prefer like Reggie Bush (3.7 yards per carry and 12 career rushing TDs despite playing for one of the best offenses in the NFL) and Matt Leinart (whose statistics are actually worse than Young's). 

Also, note the clear disconnect between comments regarding Young's status and future between the media columnists and the Titans coaches and players.

Young's teammates, including those who have since left the team in free agency and no longer have a reason to carry water for the guy, uniformly state that he is a very good player with the potential to be great, who needed better players around him, and an offense better suited to his skills.

The Titans' coaches and organizations deny failing to surround Young with quality talent and an effective scheme (for obvious reasons) but even they attribute Young's problems to their having to play him before he was ready (to save their jobs) and that he is only now getting the opportunity to learn the NFL game as a backup that they planned to give him in the first two years of the league.

Yet the media drumbeat continued. When the Titans signed Chris Simms to be their third QB during last season, the media refused to portray it as a team that only had two QBs signing a third. After all, the Titans have usually carried three QBs in the past, and most NFL teams carry three.

Instead, the media stated: "The Titans are through with Young! Chris Simms is the QB of the future!" and kept the nonsense up for months. It ended when Simms left the Titans to sign with the Denver Broncos.

Why? Because Chris Simms—according to his own public comments—was the No. 3 QB in Tennessee, knew that he had no shot at beating out Young for No. 2, and was going to a situation where he could be the No. 2 QB.

The Titans were interested in Simms in case they couldn't retain Kerry Collins as a free agent. Never at any time was Simms reviewed as Vince Young's competition or replacement.

How did Simms know this? Because that was what the Titans told him. So, immediately after the Titans re-signed Collins, Simms went to Denver.

What was the media's response? "The Titans not keeping Simms was a FINANCIAL decision and no indication of their true feelings towards Young or his commitment to him."

Yeah, right.

Next, the media—primarily the local Nashville media—started talking up the possibility of the Titans' taking a QB in the draft. The draft came and went, and it didn't happen.

Once again, the Titans front office, coaches, and players reaffirmed their commitment to Young as the QB of the future. But the media stated: "Well, they didn't draft a QB because they were using the draft to get players to help them contend for the Super Bowl this year, but NEXT YEAR the QB of the future is coming in the draft!"

That is, until the Titans signed Patrick Ramsey.

The Titans publicly stated that it was to be the third QB. Patrick Ramsey acknowledged that, when the Titans signed him, it was to be the third QB.

But again the media blared: "Vince Young's roster spot is not secure! The Titans still have questions about Young! They signed a QB who knows the offensive coordinator's system! (Mike Heimerdinger coached Ramsey with the Broncos.) A huge training camp battle for backup QB is afoot, and if Young loses he will be cut!"

And the media kept that line...until training camp started.

Then they were forced to abandon it after Young—in a development that was a surprise only to them—began outplaying Patrick Ramsey immediately and has continued to do so thereafter.

At first, the columnists stated "Patrick Ramsey may catch up."

Excuse me, but how?

As they stated all summer, Ramsey already knew the offense and Young didn't? But now, the new line is "don't count Ramsey out yet! The REAL battle will be in the preseason games."

Excuse me, but the truth is training camp drills, which are passing drills only, represent Ramsey's only chance at outperforming Young.

During preseason games, Young will have the freedom to pass AND run, and Ramsey, as mediocre a passer as is Young, but certainly no runner, doesn't have a chance.

Again, everyone seems to know this but the media.

So then there comes the final hope: the Titans will be forced to release Young rather than pay his huge contract in 2010. Except the fact contracts are restructured to reduce salary cap figures more often than you'd think.

Vince Young and his agent have already publicly and repeatedly stated to whoever will listen that they are willing to redo his contract at any time.

Yet the Titans have not begun negotiations, not because they are intent on releasing Vince Young (which would make no sense, as redoing his contract would be much friendlier on the salary cap), but because their position is Young's contract is not a problem.  

So what is going on?

Simple: The media has had it out for Young from day one. By "the media", I mean two entities: the national media and the local Nashville media, each with their distinct grudges.

First, the national media. They dislike Vince Young because he beat the USC Trojans for the national title in the Rose Bowl, and topped it off by leaving early for the draft and getting picked ahead of Leinart, resulting in his tumbling all the way to Arizona.

The media ignores the reason why Leinart fell so far was because he was out of shape and exhibited a prima donna/partyboy attitude during the predraft process, causing several teams to take him off their draft boards, and that Leinart's bad behavior continued in Arizona, forcing the Cardinals to give Kurt Warner the starting job despite their REALLY not wanting to.

Incidentally, Leinart has the same balloon payment next season as does Young, yet the next columnist who states it will force the Cardinals to release him—as is commonly alleged with Young—will be the first.

Not only does the media personally like and root for USC (as they did in the 1990s with FSU and do now with Florida and Oklahoma), but Vince Young's performance, singlehandedly outplaying Heisman Trophy winners Leinart and Bush (again chosen because of the incessant media cheerleading), made them look like fools.

The national media—led by ESPN—not only depicted USC as the best football team, which they may well have been, but as an unstoppable team for the ages, practically unbeatable in big games.

It was on this basis that the media justified such foolishness as giving USC a split title in 2003 (the only team in the BCS era to come anywhere close to doing so) and denying Auburn the same split title the next season.

Amazingly, the local media—especially the Los Angeles Times—and even the Trojans' coaching staff, tried to distance themselves from this talk, pointing out how strong the Longhorns were, that USC had its share of flaws, and that USC had been rather lucky to escape some games in the past. But it was to no avail, as ESPN continued with their "USC is the greatest team ever" advertising campaign.

When Vince Young exposed the nonsense for what it was, not only were they left with egg on their faces, but no longer could USC be presumed to be automatically deserving of a spot in the national title game. The media held the same position the 1990s with FSU, making sure that FSU leapfrogged teams that beat them and teams that had better records, only to see FSU lose more title games during the 90s than they won.

So thanks to Vince Young (and also to the intellectually dishonest and inconsistent framework that the media used to trash LSU in 2003 and Auburn in 2004), USC hasn't played for the national title or been allowed to share the title since (despite having very good arguments in 2007 and 2008) because Vince Young destroyed the "USC is unbeatable" argument.

ESPN has been leading the way in the Vince Young bashing. Colin Cowherd, for instance, declares that Vince Young is an inevitable bust who should never be given another chance while predicting that Matt Leinart will succeed down the line.

His reasoning? Vince Young's Wonderlic score.

Which, really, is about it. Of course, Cowherd ignores that plenty of QBs with low Wonderlic scores have succeeded in the NFL, or that Matt Leinart's high Wonderlic score hasn't resulted in his having better judgment or work ethic.

But Cowherd is no worse than Merrill Hoge, who not only predicted Young's failure from the very beginning, but continued to trash him EVEN WHEN HE WAS PLAYING WELL. For instance, when Young was turning in a Rookie of the Year/Pro Bowl caliber season in his first year, Hoge claimed that the Titans were winning in spite of him.

So...how does a team that had gone 7-25 the previous two years win in spite of ANYONE? The next season, when Young led the Titans to the playoffs, Hoge claimed that any other QB would have won the Super Bowl.

Sure, When the Titans finally fired offensive coordinator Norm Chow after three disastrous seasons, Hoge did not attribute that to Chow—who had no NFL experience whatsoever—not being an NFL caliber coordinator.

Instead, he blamed Vince Young. This despite Chow's own admission that he was "lost" on the NFL level, Chow's frequent statements that the Titans' WRs and RBs were so bad that he never had a fair chance.

Chow's offenses in Nashville were actually worse before they began playing Young, and not a single other NFL team even considered hiring Chow as a coordinator (because he was horrible) leading to his returning to the college ranks to work on RICK NEUHEISEL'S staff.

But that is the national media. The local media was even worse, and so was the fanbase. The truth is Young never had a chance, as neither the local media nor the fans wanted him to begin with.

There are basically two camps. The first, primarily the media, wanted Matt Leinart and made this fact clear in the pre-draft process. The second, primarily the fans, wanted Jay Cutler.

The Leinart camp's position is not so much affection for Leinart as is their belief that dual threat QBs are the worst possible QBs to have. On one hand they don't win Super Bowls, but on the other hand they take you to the playoffs every year, making them impossible to replace and result only in an otherwise championship caliber teams wasting their potential.

This school of thought, led by a particular Nashville sportswriter who wrote several columns to that effect, hoping to influence the Titans front office (to no avail) and now writes for ESPN, has nothing against Young's becoming a consistent playoff QB, but wants him to go do it someplace else as quickly as possible so that the Titans can replace him with a QB that will give them a shot at a Super Bowl.

This explains why this writer began soliciting quotes from anyone and everyone willing to criticize Young, even while the fellow was compiling a winning record, taking a wretched team to the playoffs, and in particular doing so in the 2007 season after the Titans lost their best RB and two best WRs to free agency (and refused to replace them in free agency or the draft) and was hobbling on bad hamstrings.

The local media was obsessed with trying to get Young to admit that he was hurt knowing full well that Young would refuse. Publicly admitting how hurt he was would cause defensive coordinators to blitz him even more than they already were, and it would give the local media license to accuse him of whining and making excuses.

Perhaps the biggest example of "unbiased objective reporting" was how the ringleader of this nonsense approached the WR situation.

The Titans' WRs have been horrible for years. When Young was the starting QB, this reporter stated that "the receivers are good enough IF YOUNG CAN GET THEM THE BALL." But immediately after Young was benched, this very same reporter began repeatedly writing "the passing game is never going to be productive unless we get better WRs."

The media would have trashed Young as betraying his teammates, dividing the locker room, and making excuses had he at any time asked for better WRs. When Kerry Collins demanded—and got—better WRs, it was evidence of his superior leadership.

Speaking of Collins versus Young, the media—national and local—would have you believe that Collins rescued the franchise from Young's ineffectiveness to lead them to the NFL's best record. Fine...if you like urban legends.

Here is the truth: Kerry Collins and Vince Young were indistinguishable as passers in 2007 and 2008. In 15 starts in 2007 (he missed one start due to his hamstrings) Young completed 62% of his passes for 2550 yards, 9 TDs and 17 INTs and a 71 rating.

Horrible, right? Well in 15 starts in 2008 (Young started the first game) a HEALTHY Collins completed 58% of his passes for 2676 yards, 12 TDs and 7 INTs and an 80 rating.

That's not all. Even on bad hamstrings, Young rushed for 400 yards and 3 TDs in 2007, meaning Young actually accounted for more yards and as many TDs as did Collins in 2008.

Second, COLLINS HAD BETTER PLAYERS AROUND HIM.

First, the Titans fixed their pass rush and secondary problems on defense.In 2007, the Titans drafted Michael Griffin, an excellent college safety, and tried to play him at CB, where he was horrible, as was LaMont Thompson, one of the starting safeties.

In 2008, the Titans acquired a CB from free agency, cut LaMont Thompson and moved Griffin to his spot. Further, Cortland Finnegan, a former small college player originally drafted by the Titans to be a reserve CB/special teamer but was thrust into the starting lineup out of the necessity created by the "Pacman" Jones fiasco, improved dramatically from his first year to his second.

Thus, the Titans' secondary went from being one of the worst in the NFL to being one of the best. And this does not even describe how the Titans had to use the draft and free agency to vastly improve their defensive line. 

But that was not all. The Titans' terrible pass catchers received a lift from signing veteran free agents at WR and TE and seeing oft-injured deep threat WR Brandon Jones stay healthy the entire season. And most important: the Titans drafted RB Chris Johnson, who gave the offense someone capable of making long runs and sending LenDale White (who by is own admission was 35 pounds overweight) to the bench.

Now the local media did acknowledge that Collins wasn't making any plays—it was not as if they had a choice—but attributed the improved record (three whole games against an easier schedule!) to Collins' making fewer mistakes. It was completely ignored that thanks to the great defense and dominant running game Vince Young never had, Collins made fewer mistakes because he didn't have to make plays to win games.

Now everyone in the Titans' organization knows that this is the case. Including, incidentally, Kerry Collins, WHO REFUSED TO RESIGN WITH THE TITANS UNLESS HE WAS GUARANTEED THE STARTING JOB.

COLLINS DID NOT WANT TO COMPETE WITH A HEALTHY VINCE YOUNG WITH BETTER PLAYERS AROUND HIM! (Because of Jeff Fisher, who likes Collins and was behind the Titans' signing him from the scrap heap in the first place, the Titans' caved to Collins' request DESPITE NOT A SINGLE TEAM IN THE NFL OFFERING COLLINS A CONTRACT IN FREE AGENCY.)

But the local media doesn't report it, and the national media, already predisposed to wanting Young to fail and also (to be fair) being predisposed to defer to the "reporting" of the local media, simply passes on the poison.

Speaking of poison, that describes the relationship Vince Young has with the local fans. The rotten part: it isn't personal. Nashville is not a professional sports town, as the Titans only began playing there in 1999.

Instead, it is a college football town, a town infatuated with the local legend that is Jay Cutler and incensed that the Titans did not draft him. Now were it a city with a pro sports tradition, the fan base would be sophisticated enough to know that the local franchise is frequently going to go in a different direction from the local heroes (the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, rarely drafts players from the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech) and support the player that they have.

But the large, vocal and virulent Jay Cutler fan base wants Vince Young to fail simply because he isn't Jay Cutler. Some of it is hope that it will cause the Titans to pursue Cutler in a trade or as a free agent down the line (and you can guess what these folks were saying and doing during the Cutler drama with Denver this offseason!) but even if that never happens, the Cutler fans simply want to be able to say "I told you so!" for the next 30 years, and that can't happen if Young becomes a successful NFL QB.

So unlike the local media, who truthfully has nothing personal against Young (even if he does frequently rub them the wrong way with his immaturity and bad decisions) and sincerely does hope that he finds a better situation elsewhere, the local fans have so much personally invested in seeing Vince Young fail in football so they can say "I told you that you should have drafted Cutler!" that they are willing to root for the failure of their own team and the failure of a person who has never done anything to them or anyone else EXCEPT NOT BE JAY CUTLER!

The fact that Cutler himself professes to believe that Vince Young can be a good NFL QB, and that it would have been a lot better for his development had the Titans let Young spend at least his first year on the bench as the Broncos did for him means nothing to his Nashville "fans".

Now of course, the next QB that the Titans acquire won't have most of the Titans fanbase wanting him to fail because he won't be the guy drafted over the local hero. The local media knows this, and they also know how foolish and unfair it is.

But since Vince Young being hated by his own fan base is convenient to their own agenda—which is getting him out of town and replaced with a more traditional dropback QB—that they feed into it nonetheless.

Again, refer to the leading local sportswriter regurgitating Merrill Hoge's bashing to soften up Vince Young's local support even when he was playing well, therefore making absolutely sure that he would have practically no local support at all when Young began to inevitably struggle (as all inexperienced QBs do).

One of the Hoge's inanities repeated in the Nashville press: Vince Young is inaccurate and can't get the ball downfield because he has bad footwork, and if his footwork hasn't improved after two years in the NFL, THEN IT CAN'T GET ANY BETTER. 

An even better quote by this sportswriter: (Indianapolis Colts GM) Bill Polian says that if a QB isn't any good by his third year, he won't be any good. Drew Brees in his third year: 17 TDs, 16 INTs, 77 rating. Drew Brees in his eigth year: 34 TDs, 17 INTs, 5000 yards, 96 rating. Brees is just one of a long list of QBs who were either ineffective (or on the bench because they were ineffective) early in their careers.

Who does that list include? Why both Tennessee's current QB Kerry Collins (52.5 percent completions for 2100 yards, 11 TDs and 21 INTs for a 56 rating) and Tennessee's QB prior to Young, the late Steve McNair (52 percent completions, 2665 yards, 14 TDs, 13 INTs, 70 rating).

Young is actually far ahead of where both Steve McNair and Kerry Collins (incidentally drafted in the same year) were. The local fanbase doesn't know it because Collins' early years were in Carolina and New Orleans, and McNair's early years were in Houston and Memphis.

The Titans' Super Bowl run, McNair's first playoff run, came after McNair had been struggling in Houston and Memphis for 4 seasons. Kerry Collins, meanwhile, didn't attain an 80 passer rating, 14 TD passes, or 57 percent completion percentage until his 6th season.

I wonder if Merrill Hoge regarded their footwork as improving during that time.

The local media knows this information, but reporting it would result in a fanbase that doesn't boo their starting QB at home games and even at offseason charity events. It's true...Tennessee Titans fans have actually booed Young during offseason charity events.

The hostility of the local fans has actually caused the local media to become convinced that driving Young into another situation is actually in his benefit, but in the process they ignore their role in creating and increasing the fanbase's hostility.

Thanks to the "I hate him because he beat USC" attitude of the national media, the "I don't hate him but I want him to go make some other franchise a perennial 2nd place finisher" attitude of the local media, and the "I hate him because he isn't Jay Cutler" attitude of the local fans, Vince Young would have had to have been an immediate success on the level of Peyton Manning (another guy that the locals REALLY wish were the Titans' QB...many of them actually RESENTED Tee Martin for winning the national title after Peyton Manning left, though that subsided with time) in order to silence the people who had so much invested in either seeing him fail or at least seeing him succeed or fail someplace else. 

Right now, the going justification for the manifestly unfair treatment that the press and the fans have subjected him to was the "he quit on the team!" nonsense from the Jacksonville game last season.

While Young's behavior in that game was inexcusable, the fans and media are merely using that incident to justify the animus against him long before then, as if the booing and rooting for him to fail WHILE HE WAS LEADING A WINNING TEAM WHILE PLAYING HURT wasn't going on before then.

Incidentally, as many times as Young AND his teammates state that he refused to re-enter the Jacksonville game because he was trying to inform the coaching staff that he was INJURED, no one ever seems to want to report it.

It is regularly reported that Young was pulled out of the game due to suffering a knee injury during the game, but tried to come out of the game prior to that. It is never reported that Young was trying to come out of the game because his HAMSTRINGS, the same ones that he had played hurt on the prior season and had bothered him ever since, all through offseason drills and through training camp and preseason, were still bothering him.

So, when Young predicts that he is going to look great this season when he gets the chance because "this is the first time that my legs have been healthy in two years" it is either never reported, or people have no idea what he is talking about because it was never discussed (or proposed as the reason for his struggles) in the media in the past.

Well, the fans may not know (or care) and the media may not report it because it is not in their interests, but the Titans coaches and front office knows.

First, they know that Young saved the whole lot of them from being fired in 2006 and 2007 by producing an 18-11 record with a horrible team. Second, they know that Vince Young's development was set back by the terrible decision to hire Norm Chow, whose hiring Jeff Fisher publicly acknowledged was a mistake when he was forced (many believe by the owner) to fire him.

They know that the Titans' RBs and WRs have been terrible, because they are the ones who replaced them. After the Titans release draft bust Paul Williams, the only WRs from the 2007 season still in Nashville will Justin Gage, who by the way caught 55 passes from Vince Young for 750 yards and 2 TDs that year, and Chris Davis, who does nothing for the passing game will only make the team because the Titans have no one else to return kicks and punts.

Also, the starting RB from 2007, Chris Brown, is long gone. The No. 3 RB from 2007, former 2nd round draft pick bust Chris Henry, will be released during training camp along with Williams. No. 2 RB LenDale White was never in danger of being cut, but had he been willing to go from 260 lbs. to 229 lbs. before now—a contract year —he would have been the No. 1 RB long ago, and Vince Young would still be the starting QB.

That the Titans had this habit of using high draft picks on guys who did nothing in college like WR Paul Williams, WR Chris Davis, WR Brandon Jones, WR Tyrone Calico, and RB Chris Henry, as well as guys that other teams let slide down the draft over work ethic, injury, or character issues like RBs Chris Brown and LenDale White, WR Roydell Williams and TE Ben Troupe and going after aging, oft-injured and unproductive free agents like RB Travis Henry, WR David Givens, WR Eric Moulds, TE Alge Crumpler and WR Justin McCareins is precisely what gave Vince Young absolutely no chance of putting up good numbers early in his Titans career even if he had the ability.

Keep in mind: The "NFL players" listed above aren't late round pick and street free agent types acquired to fill out the bottom of the roster. These were guys who started plenty of games for the Titans—or were acquired hoping that they would start—while Vince Young was trying to move the offense.

See if you can count how many of these guys will even still be in the NFL this season—let alone in Nashville—and ask yourself if this was some Super Bowl offense that Young was holding back. Quite the contrary, it was an offense that produced more turnovers than points in the playoff game with Baltimore after Chris Johnson was injured. 

Again, this is information that the Titans' coaches and front office already knows. So despite what the media says in their wishful thinking, there is actually a greater chance that Vince Young will be the starting QB in 2010 than there is that he will be released.

After all, what are the Titans actually supposed to accomplish this year anyway? Granted, they may have the No. 1 or 2 running game in the NFL thanks to Chris Johnson and a much slimmer LenDale White behind a great offensive line. But the passing game will consist of Kerry Collins throwing to Justin Gage, Nate Washington (Pittsburgh's No. 3 WR last season, and they did not even try to retain him in free agency) and Bo Scaife.

While this is marked improvement over last season and light years away from 2007, the greatest show on turf it is not, even if they get help from rookie TE Jared Cook (who has been very impressive so far) and rookie WR Kenny Britt (who hasn't). They are not going to outscore the much better offensive talent in New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis or San Diego in a playoff game, and may not even outscore the likes of Miami or Baltimore. 

Last season the Titans may have only needed just enough on offense to let their defense carry them to the title. AFC offensive stars like Tom Brady, LaDanian Tomlinson, Peyton Manning, and both Pittsburgh Steelers tailbacks being injured and missing part or all of the season helped greatly.

This year, they are without Albert Haynesworth, who made their front four dominant enough to stop the run and rush the passer without blitzing. Without Haynesworth, their front four is good but not great.

Their first year defensive coordinator has already admitted that they are going to have to blitz in order to consistently pressure opposing QBs, which means that we are going to find out how good the Titans LBs and DBs really are, which is pretty good but not as good as the playmaking units on some of the other contenders.

Add it all up and the Titans are far more likely to go 10-6 with a first round playoff exit than win a Super Bowl. If that is the result, why go back to Kerry Collins in 2010? If Collins wasn't Troy Aikman in his prime, he won't be at 37, and the Titans will be wasting their time. Unless the Titans make a deep run in the playoffs that they don't have the talent to make, Jeff Fisher will have no choice but to open up the QB competition, one that Collins already knows that Young will win. 

So rather than being on his way out of the league, Young will be healthy, with better players around him, and a complete knowledge of the offense in 2010 when he returns to Tennessee's starting lineup. Won't ESPN be happy!

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