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Week 17 in the NFL

Total Package

Drafting Young was regarded by many in the NFL as a big gamble, but the Titans appear to have hit the jackpot

December 31, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Even in the wake of Vince Young's breathtaking performance in the 2006 Rose Bowl, many people questioned whether the Texas quarterback was a good fit for the NFL.

Just three months ago, as the losses piled up for the Tennessee Titans, it was Young doubting his decision to leave school early for the pros.

"I was wondering if I should have stayed in college because of all the stuff going on," Young said. "It was to the point that we were getting our butts whipped and all the stuff that was going on on the sideline. I was like, 'What's going on? What have I gotten myself into?' But at the same time, it was a learning process for me and a learning process for the rest of the guys."

Young was unusually candid this week when talking to reporters who cover the Titans. He could afford to be. Entering today's season finale against New England, Tennessee (8-7) has won six in a row, four against winning teams. Since replacing the ineffective Kerry Collins as the starter after Week 3, Young is 8-4 and has been named NFL rookie of the week three times.

The Titans also have a chance to make league history. They can become the first to finish better than .500 after losing their first five games. More important, they are still a blip -- albeit a flickering one -- on the postseason radar. To secure a berth, the Titans would need to beat the Patriots, and get a loss or tie by Cincinnati, a Denver loss, and a Kansas City victory.

Regardless, the Titans clearly have a future with Young, who has thrown for 1,972 yards and rushed for 523, joining Billy Kilmer as the only rookie quarterback to run for at least 500 yards. He doesn't rely entirely on his scrambling, as some people thought he might, but effectively mixes in runs to keep defenses off balance.

"We expected him to be a good player," said Coach Jeff Fisher, whose franchise made Young the No. 3 pick and signed him to a deal potentially worth $58 million. "We were very, very surprised at his progress early on through the off-season and into training camp. There was no doubt in our minds that he was going to become a starter this year."

Fisher has credited offensive coordinator Norm Chow, formerly of USC, with easing the transition for Young from college to the pros. Had Chow been with the Titans years earlier, Fisher said, Steve McNair could have made that transition quicker too.

Young said the most difficult part of the step up has been the play calling and terminology, and "standing in the huddle with a bunch of guys, grown men, and trying to get the play out while being a rookie and those guys looking into your eyes wondering if you know what you're saying."

Observers have long made the comparison between Young and Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, who has run for 3,842 yards and 21 touchdowns in six seasons.

But Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said Young is "a lot stronger than Vick. He runs through a lot of tackles. Guys just bounce off him."

That might be, yet Young wants to be known as a quarterback first and a running threat second.

"We do run the ball pretty good," he said. "But at the same time I look to pass first. I try to sit in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield. When everything is not going right, that's when I try to use my legs. I think that's the difference between us."

The victories didn't come right away for Young and the Titans. He lost four of his first six starts, including one-point defeats to Indianapolis and Baltimore. The winning streak began Nov. 19 against Philadelphia and continued with triumphs over the New York Giants, Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville and Buffalo.

"There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to be successful in the NFL," Young said. "It was just how long it was going to take."

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Young career

Only four rookie quarterbacks since the AFL-NFL merger have won as many games as Vince Young has this season with the Titans.Young has also set the rookie record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

*--* Year Quarterback Wins 2004 Ben Roethlisberger 13 2005 Kyle Orton 10 1973 Joe Ferguson 9 1988 Chris Chandler 9 2006 Vince Young 8

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*--* Year Quarterback Yards 2006 Vince Young 523 1961 Billy Kilmer 509 1969 Bobby Douglass 408 1948 Fred Enke 365 1993 Rick Mirer 343

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Source: STATS LLC

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