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Young evolving as he leads another Titans' rally

12/18/2007 - NFL Vince Young Tennessee Titans + more

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tennessee Titans wide receiver Eric Moulds has had one of the best vantage points for what Titans quarterback Vince Young has gone through this season.

It's not just that Moulds is a veteran with 12 years of NFL experience. It's that he has become a confidant of Young's since signing with Tennessee this offseason, a player who's learned quite a bit when they carpool to games.

"Vince has talked to me about some of the things he's had to deal with," Moulds said after the Titans' 26-17 win over the Chiefs on Sunday.
"When he was in college, he was in an offense that was designed for him to run and throw. Now, he's in a system where he has to pass first and then run. It's still a transition for him."

It actually has been so much of an adjustment that Young, the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is back in a familiar position: He's trying to prove that he really can become an elite quarterback in this league. He gave a pretty strong showing in his most recent effort -- Young completed 16 of 26 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns in that win over Kansas City -- but that still won't be enough to convince skeptics who are more swayed by his overall numbers.

Through 14 games, Young has thrown 16 interceptions and just nine touchdown passes. His 70.1 passer rating ranks 28th in the league, just ahead of the Cleo Lemons, Rex Grossmans and Trent Dilfers of the world.

This is why this time of year is so critical for Young. Last season, he won over fans by leading the Titans to six wins in their final seven games after Tennessee opened with an 0-5 start. Young once again is trying to rally the Titans, who are 8-6, into a playoff spot while leading with both his arm and his feet.

"I've heard the criticisms before, that I can't make all the throws and that we can't make plays in the passing game," Young said. "I just take that as a challenge to prove that we can get the job done here."

So far Young has shown that he's still at his best late in a season. He has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in each of his past five games, and his overall completion rate of 62 percent is a major improvement over the 51.5 percent he posted as a rookie. His teammates also say that he has done a better job of rebounding from mistakes and that he's learning to take what defenses give him (which is essential when Moulds is the only Titans receiver who has caught more than 45 passes in any given season).

Chiefs safety Jarrad Page added that he's surprised by all the knocks on Young because "People can say he can't do this or do that, but the guy still creates a lot of trouble for you out there."

The problem, however, is that teams have learned how to defend Young. They're blitzing him more. They're using spies to shut off his running lanes while pass-rushers contain him in the pocket. Basically, the opposing strategy has been that if you stifle Young's scrambling, you diminish his impact.

As evidence, Young has rushed for 375 yards this season after gaining 552 in 13 starts in 2006.

"It's harder for him now because teams know him," said Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow. "Other coaches aren't dumb. They're taking away certain things, and we're not going to force the issue when those options aren't there."

[All the criticism] is like a remix now. It used to be an original song, but now people are finding new ways to say the same old stuff about me.

--Vince Young

That actually is just one issue for Young. Another is how his improvisational style will fit in the Tennessee offense as his career progresses. It's no secret that Titans coach Jeff Fisher prefers a more conservative approach to offense -- the team ranks fourth in the NFL with 134.6 rushing yards per game -- especially when he has a young quarterback.

Former Tennessee signal-caller Steve McNair, who was a more polished passer than Young coming into the NFL, had only one 3,000-yard passing season in his first six years under Fisher. But McNair also developed to the point that he eventually became the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 2003.

That isn't to say Young is going to evolve into a quarterback who throws it 40 times a game. It's just that the Titans clearly understand that it's going to take time for him to find a comfort level in an offense that continually has been tweaked to fit his strengths. Even Young admitted that he's starting to recognize opportunities he would have missed as a rookie.

"I'm starting to become more patient with my reads," he said. "I'm learning that I don't have to do everything by myself. We have plenty of talent, so all I have to do is play my role."

The important thing to remember is that Young is going through the same growing pains that affect every young quarterback. That's a reality check he hears from Moulds on a regular basis. In fact, Young has stressed to Moulds that the receiver's point of view is important because too many people around the quarterback aren't willing to be honest with Young about his flaws. The more Moulds can call Young on his mistakes, the more appreciative Young will be of that feedback.

Young clearly wants to be mentioned among the game's elite quarterbacks, and he was encouraged by all the conversations he had with players such as Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer at last year's Pro Bowl.

But it's also obvious that the scrutiny does bother him. As he said, "[All the criticism] is like a remix now. It used to be an original song, but now people are finding new ways to say the same old stuff about me."

Young had better get used to it. Because that's a trend that isn't likely to change until his game becomes more consistent.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.