Vince Young, Titans Receivers Ready to Take Next Steps
"He's young," Fisher said.
Excuse him, he asks, for the unintended play on words.
Fisher's message is honest and resolute about Vince Young.
"He's young in this league," said Fisher of Vince Young, who is 27 and enters his fifth NFL season. It seems, though, like he has been around longer. Big plays mixed with big troubles and a spotlight that has caught him in charitable ways but also in unsuitable incidents have made Young more familiar, more public, more prone to be kicked around.
But Young looks ready now. He looks primed for something big, something distinguishing this season. You could see it here on Monday night in his preseason game work against the Arizona Cardinals. It was evident here on Wednesday as the Cardinals stuck around for a joint practice.
Fisher says: "We have the best group around him we have ever had. And they're all coming on, just like he is."
You know you are coming of age as an NFL quarterback when your coaches give you more control. NFL coaches do not easily relinquish control, especially offensive ones. But Fisher and Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger both agree that Young has earned that.
"We are giving him more of the book this year, more of the scheme," Heimerdinger said. "There are things he can expand. He is better now on the intermediate and short throws. He's ready to make more plays downfield. He's in his fifth year, but really, this is only the second year we can put a full year together working together. He's working hard and studying hard. And he still has that ability at quarterback to take off. That's still a plus."
Young started 13 games as a rookie in 2006, 15 in his second year, one in 2008 and 10 last season. He entered as a starter last season when the Titans were 0-6. He guided them to an 8-2 finish and, overall, an 8-8 season.
They trust him more. They have given him more.
"It's a great feeling," Young said. "I've been through a lot since I was a rookie. I've learned a lot about preparation. I'm ready for this game now and ready to lead. It doesn't matter in the NFL if you are Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, a top quarterback, there are things you go through that are tough playing this position. It's all about how you come out of it.
"I've got a great supporting cast at receiver and tight end. I've got an offensive line that is special; I always tell them in the huddle, 'You get the front, we've got your back.' And this year I will be able to change the protection at the line of scrimmage. I've never been allowed to do that before. Dinger (Heimerdinger) is not yelling at me like he used to yell at me."
The Titans are watching their quarterback blossom.
And the offense around him.
With running back Chris Johnson ripping through defenses with his pitter-patter style and zooming runs, the Titans offense has a chance to excel this season. Johnson thinks he can accomplish another 2000-plus yard rushing season. Young believes he can improve on his 57.6 career completion percentage and 6.6 average yards gained per completion.
The prime tight ends -- Bo Saife and Jared Cook -- are a rare combination of power-blocking and downfield pass-catchers.
The receivers are huge factors.
The leaders among them -- Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Justin Gage -- know they must rise for Young. Lavelle Hawkins, a third-year receiver, stood out in the Monday night game after his catch and mid-air hurdle move over a Cardinals tackler. Rookie Damian Williams from Southern Cal has turned heads in camp.
"Our entire group is not a selfish group," Gage said. "I think the talent is there but we need a strong mental approach this year. We need to stay healthy. And we have to understand with Chris and Vince in the same backfield, there will be plenty of chances for us to win one-on-one matchups and make big plays. We have to do that. Also as a receiver here, you can't be afraid to block. When you have Vince and Chris with the ball in their hands, one block, one crease, can lead to a touchdown."
Britt said the Titans coaches have told him to "Wake up." He said Young is more focused and leads more.
Hawkins said he understands the offense and his duties better, but "I'm not where I want it to be. It takes time, but one thing we know is right now we have to help Vince. Right now."
And Washington added that last season, his first here after leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers, was one where the receivers and quarterbacks (Kerry Collins for six games, Young for 10) tried to catch up to each other and "pretty much never did."
But that is happening now, he said. And he said Heimerdinger, like with Young, is giving the receivers more freedom.
"It used to be that the route had to be run this way in this precise manner to get to this spot," Washington said. "Now he is telling us to get to this spot and get there the best way for you, using your skill, but get to this spot. Receivers love that."
The Titans, steeped in Fisher's fundamental teachings, appear ready to let a few things happen with their quarterback, with their team in more artful, creative ways.
That should take the restlessness out of Young.
"I believe in hard work," Young said. "I believe in doing and accomplishing all the things that people said I couldn't. I'm ready for that."