Tonight Is the Preseason Opener, So Let's Talk About Vince Young

Tonight Is the Preseason Opener, So Let's Talk About Vince Young

Amid the free agent frenzy two weeks ago, we didn't have a chance to go in-depth and under the hood of every signing, and the reality is we probably won't. There was one guy in particular I wanted to talk about though, and since his name is already in the headline, let's proceed.

A little more than five years ago, like many of you probably, I was watching one of the most incredible Rose Bowls college football has ever seen. Texas QB Vince Young, who was already no stranger to huge games on the grandest of stages, was delivering one of the hands-down, most impressive individual performances ever seen on a college football field, throwing for 267 yards and rushing for another 200 in a 41-38 win over USC to secure a National Championship.

Young was obviously an incredible athlete, as evidenced by his being able to run for 200 yards at 6-5, 232 lbs. I also marveled at his ability as a passer though. He was accurate, completing 75% of his passes; he protected the ball, committing zero turnovers; and he showed incredible pocket presence, taking off when absolutely necessary, but also occasionally sliding one step away from the rush to deliver a perfect pass.

I remember remarking he was like Tom Brady on wheels.

Vince Young's stock has certainly plummeted since that night. He was the third overall pick in the draft that April, with a bright future seemingly assured as Tennessee's franchise quarterback. Then two weeks ago, the team released him, and now he's a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. What the heck happened?

Well, a lot of things, and we'll get in to some of that. However, we don't want to rehash VY's life story, but instead examine the football side of the equation. Is he a good football player? Can he improve? Is he the right fit for the Birds? If you haven't familiarized yourself with his intriguing up-and-down career, some of the answers might surprise you.

This Guy Is No Bum...
... as some observers would have you believe. Looking at Vince Young from a pure numbers standpoint, I'm not sure how anybody could conclude that. And yes, statistics can be deceiving, but what about that 30-17 won-loss record as the starter?

Like many inexperienced quarterbacks, Young's NFL career got off to a slow start. Though he was the Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler in 2006, Young's passing stats didn't exactly set the world on fire, and he showed modest improvement at best the following season. 2008 is when everything changed for the worse for the promising signal caller though.

Young suffered a knee injury in Week 1, and was supplanted by veteran and former Nittany Lion Kerry Collins. Head coach Jeff Fisher decided early on that Collins gave them the best chance to win now, and he was probably right. While Young moped and go involved in some strange drama, the fifth overall pick of the '95 draft led Tennessee to a 13-3 record, and earned a post-season bye. That would have been a tough act to top.

Yet this is where VY gets a tough shake. Even though Collins' ability was fading fast, and Young should have had every opportunity to pick up where he left off as the QB of the future the next year, Fisher let the Titans begin the '09 campaign 0-6 before he finally reinserted Young into the lineup. The amazing part is with Young at the helm, the Titans won eight of their final 10 games.

Young had seemingly become a different quarterback after his time on the bench, and here are the numbers to prove it:

He was in the midst of taking his game to a higher level. Major improvements in yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio, sacks taken, and passer rating, along with minor strides in completion and win percentages.

However, after suffering a thumb injury during a game last season, the rift between Young and Fisher became irreparable. Young wanted to go back into the game, but Fisher would not allow him to reenter. After the game, the quarterback walked out of the locker room, never to play for the team again. So in other words, it's not like he was dismissed for poor play.

That Was Tennessee, This Is Philadelphia
Let's also keep in mind how different the situation was with the Titans compared to here. When Vince Young was struggling to find his way as a young NFL quarterback, he wasn't exactly surrounded by talent.

His top receivers consisted of Justin Gage, Roydell Williams, Drew Bennett, and Bobby Wade--nobody memorable. They even gave a washed up Eric Moulds a try. Likewise, the running game came to be headlined by LenDale White, he of the constant weight problems. Young's only consistent target through the years was tight end Bo Scaife, and he's not exactly a superstar.

Today they have Chris Johnson, and Kenny Britt is emerging as a dangerous wide receiver (both on and off the field), but that's still far from being loaded with talent. Compare that to the faces that would be looking back at him in the Eagles huddle: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Jason Avant, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith...

Night and day.

Even the coaching staff here presents Young with a greater chance to succeed. Rather than the defensive minded Fisher, who at one time had farmed the offensive coordinator job out to a college coach, VY will be surrounded by Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, in a system that has made practically every quarterback not named Mike McMahon look good.

And coming to work with Vick, who Young no doubt greatly respects, and who also had to learn how to put in the extra effort to be great, should be just another bonus. More weapons. Better coaching. Greater resolve. What do you think those statistics from above would look like after spending a few seasons in midnight green?

West Coast Quarterback?
My only major concern with VY in an Eagles uniform has nothing to do with numbers or ability, work ethic or attitude. It's fit. In five pro seasons and three in college, Young has never run a west coast style offense, and as we always make sure to note in any lengthy diatribe about quarterbacks, the system is regarded as complex and takes time to learn.

All questions about his intelligence aside, it would be fair to wonder if any QB could pick this up over such a short period of time and be ready to step into action if needed. Since we're talking about a guy who it was at one time rumored scored a six on the Wonderlic--a test NFL prospects take at the combine (and six being, ahem, not good)--naturally we're more than a little curious how quickly he can be versed enough to perform. By the way, it was later revealed he actually scored a 16 out of a possible 50.

I'm not so sure in a certain scenario, Mike Kafka is not still their guy. That may sound crazy, in part because we don't really know anything about him, but he may be more prepared for this role from the mental aspect. He's got a year in the system, and based on his college career at Northwestern, just seems like a gamer.

Of course, all these questions about Young's IQ are a little ridiculous. Until I sit down and speak to the guy, I don't pretend to know how intelligent he is, and even if we deduce based on some of his life decisions that he doesn't have the most common sense in the world, one doesn't necessarily need to be real world-smart in order to be football-smart.

But the fact is, I would worry about any younger, free agent quarterback arriving in late July and having the offense down in time to be a proper backup.

Look How That Vick Thing Turned Out Though
Overall, I still think it's a great signing, even if Vince Young never plays a down for the Eagles. If nothing else, it shows their continued willingness to
assemble as much talent as possible, year in, year out.

More importantly, I think it's great for their reputation around the NFL, particularly among the players. We've already witnessed the long list of guys clamoring to play in Philadelphia, and as we expressed previously, some of that has to do with how they helped Vick when he was in just the most miserable situation possible.

Young's situation is nothing like that at all, but he does have an image badly in need of rehabilitation. Look no further than all the words we needed to convince people that this guy--a two-time Pro Bowler with a 30-17 won-loss record, the former third overall pick in the draft-- that he can really play. Something is wrong here.

Maybe he will never get in back on track to the point where he is leading a team to the Super Bowl as you might have imagined in 2006, but honestly, he might not have too far to go. And here's hoping we don't have to find out this year, as the Eagles poise themselves to make their own run at the big stage. Still, I have to admit... I like the insurance policy.

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram headlined this year’s draft. Now that the players are nearing training camp, they are looking ahead to how their class will fair in the upcoming season. 

NBA.com talked to 38 rookies at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot this month to get their takes on their counterparts.

Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were named in the majority of the responses. Below are the categories in which the Sixers' rookies garnered votes. 

2016-17 Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.0 percent
2. Ingram (Lakers): 25.8 percent
3. Simmons (Sixers): 19.4 percent
Embiid and Saric also received votes

Best career
1. Ingram (Lakers): 26.7 percent
2. Dunn (Timberwolves): 16.7 percent 
3. Buddy Hield (Pelicans): 13.3 percent
Tie-4. Dragan Bender (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Simmons: 6.7 percent
Dario Saric also received votes

Most athletic
1. Brown (Celtics): 38.7 percent
2. Brice Johnson (Clippers): 16.1 percent
3. Marquese Chriss (Suns): 9.7 percent
Tie-4. Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Kay Felder (Cavs), Gary Payton II (Rockets): 6.5 percent
Simmons also received votes

Best shooter
1. Hield (Pelicans): 65.7 percent
2. Murray (Nuggets): 20.0 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot also received votes

Best playmaker
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.4 percent
2. Simmons (Sixers): 26.5 percent
3. Tyler Ulis (Suns): 20.6 percent
4. Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 8.8 percent
5. Felder (Cavs): 5.9 percent
Saric also received votes

Funniest
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 15.2 percent
Tie-2. Diamond Stone (Clippers), Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 12.1 percent
Tie-4. Brice Johnson (Clippers), Taurean Prince (Hawks), Ivica Zubac: 6.1 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Simmons also received votes. Embiid ranked first in this category when he was drafted in 2014. 

The end is near: Pete Mackanin to cut back Ryan Howard's playing time

The end is near: Pete Mackanin to cut back Ryan Howard's playing time

Pete Mackanin has picked his spots with the pitchers he has let Ryan Howard face in recent months and that helped Howard carry post-All Star break numbers like a .306 batting average and .653 slugging percentage into Tuesday’s night game against the Washington Nationals and their right-handed ace, Max Scherzer.

Scherzer is the type of power arm that Mackanin often protects Howard from.

But despite awful career numbers — 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts — against Scherzer, Howard was in the starting lineup at first base over Tommy Joseph on Tuesday night.

Listening to Mackanin explain his reasoning, one came away with the impression that Howard’s playing time is about to nosedive as he and the Phillies begin their last month together.

“Just to get him in there,” Mackanin said when asked why he was starting Howard against a pitcher who’d dominated him in the past. “I’m going to start using Joseph more. I’ll play [Howard] today and [Joseph] tomorrow and then I’ll lean on Joseph a little bit more the rest of the way.”

Why?

“To see him more,” Mackanin said. “I’m not saying I’m going to strictly play Joseph, but I have to get him as many at-bats as possible through the end of the season.”

Makes sense. The Phillies will part ways with the 36-year-old Howard after the season. Joseph, 25, has not won the first base job long term, but he has a chance to, especially if he can improve his on-base skills. His power numbers — 17 homers and a .500 slugging percentage in 250 at-bats — are excellent.

Mackanin was asked whether the decision to pull back on Howard’s playing time was his or whether it came down from above.

“It’s my own,” he said. “I think it makes sense to see Joseph as much as possible. Howie was swinging the bat extremely well. I’m just going to see if he can put something together against Scherzer. A lot of people don’t have good numbers against Scherzer anyway. Lefties at least hit him better.”

Mackanin said he wants to make sure Joseph gets plenty of at-bats against right-handed pitching down the stretch.

“I don’t want to happen to him what happened to [Darin] Ruf, where we didn’t have opportunities to get him at-bats,” Mackanin said.

While Mackanin wants to look at Joseph more, he has no intention to look at 23-year-old Rule 5 outfielder Tyler Goeddel more as the season winds down. Reserve Jimmy Paredes continued to get outfield reps with the start in left field on Tuesday night.

“I’ve seen enough of Goeddel to know — we’ve kept him this long and we’re going to keep him and we’ll see where we go next year with him,” Mackanin said. “I don’t see a need to play him, especially after he hasn’t played so much. What’s the point?

“Paredes, he’s an extra player. That’s why we got him. I’m trying to put some offense into the lineup and he’s been swinging the bat pretty well. Peter Bourjos is coming off his wrist injury; I’m just trying to get Paredes as many at-bats as possible to see if he can help us win games. But he’s not an everyday player right now here for us.”

Tim Tebow shows power in baseball tryout but clearly still needs work

Tim Tebow shows power in baseball tryout but clearly still needs work

LOS ANGELES -- Tim Tebow crushed a batting-practice fastball with a confident left-handed swing, sending it into the trees next to the scoreboard beyond right field.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback only paused an instant to appreciate his shot, and then he went right back to work on the unlikely next chapter in his unique athletic story.

Tebow took his first big swings at a baseball career Tuesday, showing off a powerful bat and other developing skills during a workout in front of dozens of major league scouts and reporters.

The 29-year-old aspiring outfielder went through drills at the University of Southern California's Dedeaux Field for over an hour, confidently chasing a dream deferred for 12 years. Declaring his football career essentially over, Tebow insists he is serious about becoming more than a baseball curiosity.

"The goal would be to have a career in the big leagues," Tebow said. "I just want to be someone to pursue what I believe in, what I'm passionate about. A lot of people will say, `But what if you fail? What if you don't make it?' Guess what? I don't have to live with regret. I did everything I could. I pushed it. I would rather be someone that could live with peace and no regret than what-if, or being scared."

Tebow's heavily muscled, 255-pound physique and 6.70-ish time in the 60-yard dash were impressive to the scouts. He also showed undeniable hitting ability with a series of line drives and long homers during batting practice.

But Tebow also showed he still needs baseball seasoning when he faced live pitching from former big-leaguers David Aardsma and Chad Smith, who repeatedly fooled him with off-speed pitches. Tebow could only grin in frustration after he fanned on a series of changeups and breaking balls.

"There is 100 percent nerves, no question about it," Tebow said. "When you're at the combine or a pro day, you have your body of work for four years, everything that you did, so it's not just that one day. Here, you might have seen me when I was 17, but you haven't seen me since. A lot goes into it, so you'd better show something. A lot of nerves, a lot of pressure, for sure."

Tebow hasn't played baseball regularly since his junior year at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida. He left early to enroll at Florida, beginning a fabled college football career that led to the 2007 Heisman and two national titles for the Gators.

But 12 years ago, Tebow was a .494-hitting, all-county outfielder who loved hitting a baseball every bit as much as he loved leading a huddle.

"The second-hardest decision I ever made was giving up baseball to go to the University of Florida and play football," said Tebow, whose choice of Florida over Alabama was the toughest. "There wasn't a season that went by that it wasn't something that I thought about. When I felt like I had this opportunity, I wanted to take it and pursue it with everything I had."

A few big-league teams talked privately with Tebow after the workout, and he seems unlikely to have trouble finding an organization willing to give a chance to a celebrity with clear baseball ability, however rudimentary.

Tebow realizes he is still far from the big leagues, but he hopes to play in the instructional league in Arizona next month before heading into winter league ball, perhaps even in Latin America.

Tebow decided to pursue his baseball aspirations in earnest three months ago. He began training at a baseball school in Arizona run by Chad Moeller. The former big-league catcher saw daily improvements in Tebow, from his bat speed to his mental game.

"If I'm a team, I'm signing him," Moeller said. "I'm taking him to instructional ball. I'd get him to the Arizona Fall League and get him matched up against some good arms and see what happens. I don't think this is one you're going to take your time on, because he's not a young kid. So you're going to push him. For him and for the teams, I thought if he goes out and performs the way he could and is capable of, you could see it in a year, a year and a half, definitely in the big leagues."

Tebow hasn't played in the NFL since 2012, becoming a broadcaster and resisting attempts to move him to another football position as his quarterback career evaporated. Even while he got an extended look last year from the Philadelphia Eagles, who cut him after the preseason, Tebow said his mind already had wandered back to baseball.

"It's not about publicity," Tebow said. "It's definitely not about money. It's a pay cut to do this. Just pursue what you love, right? Regardless of what else happens. Regardless of if you fail, or if you fall on your face. If that's the worst thing that can happen, that's OK. When did that become such a bad thing? When did pursuing what you love become a bad thing, regardless of the result? For me, yeah, I'll make all the sacrifices to be the best I can."