Young the Runner Now Bigger Threat Through Air

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The maturity of Vince Young as a quarterback was never clearer than last Sunday.

Young stood behind his offensive line, flicking passes to receivers while driving the Titans 99 yards in the final 2 minutes, 37 seconds. He tossed one ball out of the end zone to avoid a mistake, then had to explain a play not run by Tennessee since his rookie season to his teammates. That play resulted in the winning touchdown.

Everyone knew Young could run, throw and win.

Now the Tennessee quarterback who has revived his career with the team that drafted him No. 3 overall in 2006 is showing he's also learned how to be more potent as a pocket passer. He is coming off his best passing game as a professional, and his 387 yards are the most for this franchise in five years.

Young is paying attention. And not paying attention: One of the many lessons he's learned during his 14 months on the bench is to tune out the TV and radio commentators and newspaper columnists.

"I just try to stay focused and continue to come to work every day and continue to get better and better,'' Young said.

How much better can Young be?

"I'm still working, still working, still working,'' he said. "This is my fourth year. I got a long way to go.''

Young's development comes just in time. His $14.25 million salary cap number for 2010 is why owner Bud Adams wanted him starting after the Titans began 0-6. Is the quarterback worth keeping around after this season, Adams wanted to know? Indeed, being released and joining a long lists of busts such as Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith seemed his fate only two months ago.

Now, Young has led the Titans to five straight wins after that woeful start, the only team in NFL history to go from 0-6 to 5-6.

The 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year always called his legs his best weapon even though he can toss balls 60 yards downfield with a flick of his wrist.

He hadn't won a game with his arm in this turnaround until last week's 20-17 victory over Arizona, and what a day he had. Young threw 43 passes and completed 27 - both career highs - and was 9 of 16 for 94 yards on that final drive.

Up next is a showdown Sunday with three-time MVP Peyton Manning, the gold standard for quarterbacks in the NFL. Manning has noticed what Young's done with his second chance.

"Obviously, he had to sit and sit and sit, and then to come back in and play the way he's done, it's been very impressive. Our defense knows all the difficult challenges he provides with his legs as well as his arm. It's almost like a different offense for our defense,'' Manning said.

Young will be going for a 10th straight win as a starter in Indianapolis, and he already is 23-11 as a starter for a 67.6 winning percentage. That ranks him fourth behind Tom Brady (77.7 percent), Ben Roethlisberger (70.4 percent) and Philip Rivers (69.5 percent) for best winning percentage among quarterbacks drafted since 2000.

For the season, Young doesn't appear among the AFC's passing leaders because he hasn't thrown enough times. Over the past five weeks, he ranks sixth with a passer rating of 96.9. That also puts him ahead of Manning.

In this stretch, Young is 83 of 127 for 1,010 yards, and he has been putting balls squarely into his receivers' hands. He's completing 62.9 percent and his overall passer rating of 90.2 would be the highest yet for his career.

His teammates say Young is much more poised and comfortable in the huddle, never more so than on that decisive drive when he completed passes to five different receivers.

Nate Washington won a Super Bowl with Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and said he knew Roethlisberger would make a key play. He called Young different.

"Whatever he does is major. It's on a major level. It's on a whole different stage. It's like, I don't know, it's unexplainable. It just feels good to be with a guy who knows we have to win games, and he's going to do whatever he has to do to win games,'' Washington said.

Young explains his success by saying he learned patience sitting on the bench. He studied how Kerry Collins refused to risk a mistake by forcing a throw, and he worked hard with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson.

Heimerdinger wants to watch Young the rest of this season before assessing him as a pocket passer. But the coordinator who only worked with him through three quarters of the 2008 season opener before Young was injured has been learning what plays Young likes and fit his quarterback.

Heimerdinger helped Young's mentor, the late Steve McNair, become co-MVP with Manning in 2003. To him, the biggest difference is how hard Young is working off the field.

"There's times on Wednesday I put in ideas or new schemes, and they get wordy and even I have trouble calling them off the sheet of paper. Then he comes back on Thursday, and he has practiced saying it. He's got it down cold. He calls it right, so I know he's going home at night and doing something,'' Heimerdinger said.

Young remains the NFL quarterback who has rushed for the most yards since 2006. He ran for a season-high 73 yards to beat Houston 20-17 on Nov. 23.

Colts defensive lineman Raheem Brock notes Young is playing pretty well.

"And we know we have to get after him up front. He makes plays with his arm and his legs, so we're going to have to chase him,'' Brock said.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Young keeps doing something unique each week. The man who said Oct. 29 he would've stuck with Collins at starter if Tennessee had at least a couple of victories insists he isn't surprised by Young's play.

"I'm proud of the production, and the results,'' Fisher said.

It's tough not to be at this point.

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