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.

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

Eagles Injury Update: Isaac Seumalo, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry still out

The Eagles were back to practice on Tuesday without the same four players.

Isaac Seumalo (pec), Wendell Smallwood (concussion), Vinny Curry (knee) and Taylor Hart (knee) were all held out of practice.

On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson said the team would hold Seumalo back from practice until he was 100 percent. Pederson expects Seumalo back next week and then the team will make a decision about the starting offensive line.

Pederson also said he expects Curry and Hart back for the season opener on Sept. 11.

For the second straight day, however, Carson Wentz (ribs) and Jordan Matthews (knee) were practicing. Neither will play on Thursday in the preseason finale against the Jets, but both also said they'll be ready for the opener.

The Eagles wrap up their preseason at the Linc on Thursday with a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Jets.

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

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Photo: Dave Zeitlin

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

As Penn football players spread out around Franklin Field to take photos and do interviews for the program’s annual media day, Justin Watson hung by the track, playing a quick game of tag near the hurdles.

“Come and get me, J-Wat!” cried out Vhito DeCapria, the precocious 5-year-old cancer patient the team adopted last year through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and who’s now back for his “sophomore” season.

Watson, known as “J-Wat” to most, smiled and played along. Being Vhito’s favorite player is just one of the many hats he wears. He’s also one of the team’s hardest-working, smartest and most versatile players — and he enters his junior season as perhaps the top wide receiver in the Ivy League, if not the entire FCS.

“Does he do anything to surprise me?” senior quarterback Alec Torgersen said from media day Monday. “Not anymore. He did at the beginning when he first got here. But now it’s just expected of him. I expect him to make those crazy one-handed grabs. I expect him to catch every ball I throw to him. When he doesn’t, I get disappointed.”

Torgersen has had plenty of opportunities to throw Watson passes — and not only last season when the star receiver caught 74 balls (fourth all-time at Penn) for 1,087 yards (second all-time) and nine touchdowns (third all-time). Throughout the summer, the two friends worked together at the same internship downtown. They ate lunch together every day and, at 5 p.m., they hopped on a subway back to Franklin Field, where they worked out in the weight room and practiced back-shoulder fades and option routes.

“A lot of college quarterbacks and receivers can’t have that type of chemistry but I think us being here all summer really helped,” Watson said. “It’s been cool doing that. It’s a special thing that’s definitely going to help us in the fall.”

In truth, Watson is actually more than just a receiver. Last season, he was also used on running plays, gaining 154 yards on the ground, including a 79-yard scamper that sealed Penn’s huge upset at Harvard. Watson finished with a staggering 249 all-purpose yards that day at Harvard Stadium, helping the Quakers win the game that effectively led to them sharing a piece of the Ivy League title. And he said he was all set to play another position by taking direct snaps in the team’s regular-season finale vs. Cornell before getting hurt.

“The uniqueness about Justin is not only his talent and skill on the field but his football IQ,” second-year head coach Ray Priore said. “During the course of the year, he in theory played every skill position on offense. And he didn’t even blink an eye doing it. That’s a special characteristic.”

Priore laughed when asked if he can find more ways to utilize Watson in 2016 but said he won’t put him back on kick returns, “which he probably could do.” He will, however, play safety when the Quakers line up in their “victory defense” at the end of games, “so you may see an interception.”

Watson says he’s ready for anything.

“That’s so much fun,” he said. “When you’re a kid in middle school, that’s what you do. It’s awesome to be back doing that. Anything I can do to help us win, I’ll do it, whether it’s running back or receiver. I don’t think they’ll let me throw it at quarterback after seeing my arm. But anything else I’m definitely willing and ready to do.”

In the end, though, playing receiver is what Watson loves most, saying that catching a deep ball — and hearing the crowd “hold their breath when the ball’s in the air and then erupt” — is his favorite thing as a football player. It’s also his skills as a receiver that has him earning so much attention heading into Penn’s opener vs. Lehigh on Sept. 17. Among his preseason accolades, the junior was named one of 22 players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — the only Ivy Leaguer to receive such an honor.

But if all of his records and accolades leads to opposing defenses paying more attention to him, Watson isn’t worried. That’s because he knows the team’s other receivers like fifth-year senior Cam Countryman and sophomore Christian Pearson are more than capable of having big years too.

“If you put two guys on me, we’ve got a bunch of other great receivers who will be open and will kill you down the field,” Watson said. “If I’ve got to take two or three guys every game, we’ll be 10-0 because I know everyone else will be making plays.”

It’s that kind of selflessness that has endeared Watson to his teammates, who enjoy the energy he brings to practice and how he always seems to be the first player in the training room.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Countryman, one of Penn’s leaders. “I have the utmost respect for him. When he came in his freshman year, you noticed right away the talent he had. So all of the accomplishments that he gets, I’m not surprised at all. 

“And they’ll keep coming in.”

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.