Maturity issues still plaguing Young
Recent incident raises more questions about quarterback's ability to lead Titans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vince Young once again proved he still has maturity issues by getting into a 3 a.m. scrum Sunday in a Dallas strip club. The incident likely reminded Young that he might not be in Nashville forever.
To his credit, Young was accountable for his mistake. By meeting with Dallas police Sunday instead of hiding, Young turned an assault that looked ugly on video into the legal equivalent of a traffic offense. He stepped up to the mike Monday after Titans practice and apologized to the fans, the team and management. With no other criminal offense to his name, Young probably will avoid an NFL suspension.
What he won't avoid is the scrutiny of how he handles himself and how it affects his leadership role and future with the Titans.
"Becoming a leader is a process," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "You just don't step in and just take over a team. It's a process and throughout the process on occasions you hope there are not setbacks."
Long term, the Dallas incident might just be like a sack, but Young, who is 27, still has a lot to prove. He has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $11.75 million this year and $12.75 million in 2011. With a 26-13 career record, Young is a 67 percent winner and has a 57.6 career completion percentage. His future with the Titans will be determined by whether he can keep winning and improving as a quarterback.
"The young Vince Young is leaving, and the mature Vince Young is coming in," veteran wide receiver Justin Gage said. "He's stepping up in front of the team and talking more to the players and coaching guys more on the field."
Here are the five things I learned during a visit with the Titans.
1. VY fine-tuning technique: Mechanically, Young shows improvement as a quarterback. At least he's working at it. Throwing to his left became a problem in the past couple of seasons because Young's footwork was horrid. Young would twist his body to throw left, but his right foot wouldn't move with him, leaving him an open stance and leading to inaccurate throws. Young's footwork has improved, although he still occasionally throws a short toss with a motion that's similar to that of a baseball shortstop. He's also making a conscious effort to hold the ball higher because when he runs and keeps the ball low, it slows his release.
This will be a critical year for Young. It will be his third season working with offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, and the third year is critical. Steve McNair developed under Heimerdinger in their third season together. Young seems to be developing a nice throwing relationship with Kenny Britt on deep balls. He should be better with his short passing game, which needed to improve.
2. Good show of hands: Clearly, this is the deepest receiving unit in recent Titans history. With no stars, it doesn't top the run-and-shoot days when Warren Moon spread out four receivers for the old Houston Oilers, but there are more intriguing options at receiver than there are regular-season roster spots. Go back to 2007, when Gage signed with the Titans as a free agent. Their top wide receivers then were Gage, Roydell Williams, a 34-year-old Eric Moulds and Brandon Jones.
The front office has done a nice job of adding a couple of new receivers to the mix each year. Britt, despite some early offseason questions about conditioning, is developing into a big-play threat. Nate Washington is a quick receiver offering run-after-the-catch ability. Gage is a big slot receiver with good hands, and Young and others believe Lavelle Hawkins can still develop into another slot option.
Third-round choice Damian Williams has been working all three receiver spots as a backup, and he shows good potential. Seventh-round choice Marc Mariani from Montana also catches the eye as a future slot receiver, but he would have to beat out Paul Williams and Dominique Edison just to be the sixth receiver on the roster.
3. Backfield lacking punch: The Titans' backfield doesn't look the same with Chris Johnson skipping offseason workouts and LenDale White long gone. White's spot as the big back appears to be going to LeGarrette Blount, the 241-pound power back from Oregon. Blount just arrived for the final two weeks of OTAs because the University of Oregon, like most Pac-10 schools, runs its school terms in quarters. Blount has a lot of catching up to do. Fisher loves the versatility of 2009 fifth-round choice Javon Ringer, who reminds him of former Titan Robert Holcombe.
The Titans do have a great fullback in Ahmard Hall. But without Johnson, the backfield lacks explosiveness. Johnson faces a tough decision in the next month. He could hold out for a new contract, but it probably won't work. The Titans might be willing to redo his deal after three seasons, but probably not after just two. Johnson has three years left on his rookie contract, so a holdout might only cost him money and result in disappointment. In the past week or so, Johnson has been reaching out to Fisher and Titans coaches to help him with his charity football camp coming up in the next few days. Titans coaches got word back to Johnson that they would like him at their NFL camp.
4. Secondary concerns: The key to the season might be how the secondary comes together. First of all, cornerback Cortland Finnegan can be the best friend and worst enemy of a Titans receiver. He's a good friend in the sense that he challenges Titans receivers in practice with tight coverage and aggressive techniques. A summer with Finnegan prepares Titans receivers for going up and trying to beat top corners such as Champ Bailey, Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis. But he can be an enemy in the sense that he's willing to call receivers out if they aren't working hard.
Figuring out the other cornerback spot will be critical. Jason McCourty, a sixth-round pick from a year ago, is running with the first team now that Roderick Hood is out for the season with a blown ACL. Former first-rounder Tye Hill will join the competition along with Ryan Mouton, a third-round choice from 2009.
Improved play at safety will be critical. Michael Griffin showed Pro Bowl potential two years ago, but he's coming off a down year. Veteran safety Chris Hope is still a good leader, but he's 29, which can be a scary age for a safety. Hope has to keep Griffin in line to improve the overall play at safety. In the meantime, Fisher will be developing draft choices Robert Johnson and Myron Rolle as safety options for the future.
5. Short story: For a second, I thought I was in Colts camp. The Colts thrive and win with short linebackers. The Titans apparently are trying the same thing. Third-round choice Rennie Curran from Georgia is 5-foot-11. Starting middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who signed his restricted free-agent tender Monday but wasn't on the field, is also 5-11. Fisher doesn't make a big deal of it, noting that Tennessee has 6-2 and 6-3 linebackers, but it's great to see that more teams aren't downgrading linebackers just because they aren't 6-footers.
James Harrison of the Steelers and Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos are among the short linebackers who have thrived. The Titans have plenty of linebacker options, but problems are affecting depth. Linebacker Gerald McRath, expected to be the starting strongside linebacker, is suspended for four games, leaving veteran David Thornton, who's coming off shoulder surgery, as the main option. It's not out of the question for the Titans to keep Keith Bulluck's number on speed dial even though he's coming off knee surgery.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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