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Young Adjusts to New Role

10:30 PM, Jul 27, 2012   |    comments
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Sal Maiorana

Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

PITTSFORD, N.Y. - There was a time, not too long ago, when Vince Young was considered to be the reincarnation of Superman.

He was the king of Texas as a high school superstar in Houston who was more popular than most of the players on the Texans' NFL team. And then he was seemingly king of the world when he took his sublime talent to the University of Texas and led the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship.

But that is not the player who walked off the practice field at St. John Fisher College Friday afternoon following his second training camp workout with the Buffalo Bills. These days, as Young tries to win the backup quarterback job behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, he more closely resembles Superman's unassuming alter ego, Clark Kent.

"My whole thing is just try to make every play count, let (head) coach (Chan) Gailey and (quarterbacks) coach (David) Lee know that I'm studying and working hard and trying to get up to speed to what Fitz is doing with the first-team offense," Young said. "That's all I can do."

It has been quite a comedown for the 29-year-old Young since he entered the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft, fresh off one of the greatest performances in college football history in what was one of the greatest games in college football history.

That night in the Rose Bowl Young piled up 467 yards rushing and passing and scored the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-down scramble with 19 seconds to go to give the Longhorns a 41-38 victory over No. 1-ranked USC.

His hometown Texans passed on him with the first overall pick in the draft, feeling David Carr was their QB of the future and opting instead for defensive end Mario Williams, now Young's teammate in Buffalo. When New Orleans took USC running back Reggie Bush at No. 2, Tennessee happily grabbed Young at No. 3, figuring he'd be the franchise QB for at least the next decade.

However, while he certainly had some great moments in Tennessee where he compiled a 30-17 won-loss record, the NFL game gave Young trouble, primarily because he just wasn't accurate enough with his passes. In five years with the Titans, he completed 57.9 percent of his throws, and had 42 TDs and 42 interceptions.

Coupled with some celebrated off-field issues, the Titans gave up on him after 2010 and he signed with Philadelphia last year. He made big news with a blown-out-of-proportion remark about the Eagles being a "dream team" and then started three games in place of injured Michael Vick and played poorly for a team that was more of a nightmare in 2011.

He was allowed to seek employment elsewhere and Buffalo is where he landed, signing a one-year deal in the hope that he can revitalize his flagging career.

"The biggest thing is it's not about me, it's not about me at all," he said. "It's where I can go in and help. My biggest thing is trying to change perception and who I am as a person. I love the game of football. It's a one-year deal, but it's an opportunity to play the game that I love. That's my biggest thing."

Young joined the Bills in May and has been playing catch up with the playbook ever since. He came to camp pretty solid with the calls and terminology, and now he's working on applying what he has learned to the daily practices.

"It's been difficult, but we're pros," he said. "Lots of work behind the scenes, lots of question asking of Fitz, Chan, making sure I'm on the same page. It's pretty similar things to what I was doing at Tennessee, but it's the terminology of it and making sure you know where the ball needs to be at in certain coverages."

Gailey has never wavered on his thoughts concerning Young. He's here to compete for the No. 2 job, and he thinks the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder, who is still a marvelous athlete, is up for the challenge.

"He has done a very good job considering the circumstances," Gailey said. "He had to come in and try to learn all of that stuff. It's very difficult. It would not have been as hard two years ago, but we are in so much more of an advanced stage now than we were two years ago. He is trying to learn what the base concepts are and how we have advanced to where we are today without the benefit of going through the baby steps. It has been tough on him but he has got a natural feel for playing the position. That is going to be another good battle in camp."

Young could have gone to a few other teams, but he chose Buffalo for a couple of reasons.

"I just believe in the vision that they have, the direction that they're going, the things they were doing on the defensive side of the ball, bringing in a lot of respected guys who can make plays on defense," he said. "And on offense, just the opportunity to fit in where I can, learn my role and learn from two great guys in coach Gailey and coach Lee."

Lee, Gailey's new quarterbacks coach, is known as a master at teaching fundamentals and Young certainly needed help in that area. It's funny because Lee has been trying to hook up with Young for a long time, clear back to when he was the quarterback coach at Arkansas and was recruiting Young to come play for the Razorbacks.

"Coach Lee has been wanting to coach me since I came out of high school," Young said with a bright smile. "It was either Southern Miss, Arkansas or Texas, it was down to those three schools. My next visit was to Arkansas, but I committed to Texas, so he was disappointed when I said I wasn't coming.

"It's a small world, it's crazy how things happen; now he's the quarterback coach in Buffalo and this is where I ended up so he finally has an opportunity to coach me and I have an opportunity to learn from him."

MAIORANA@DemocratandChronicle.com

Twitter.com/@salmaiorana

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