Vince Young, the evolution of the NFL quarterback and what comes next
Exclusive interview: The former Titans signal caller is encouraged by the trend in mobile quarterbacks having success
If there is one person that understands the modern evolution of the quarterback, it is Vince Young.
The former Tennessee Titans quarterback was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, and he is pleased to see the new generation of signal callers impress as soon as they arrive in the league, with Justin Herbert the front-runner for rookie of the year and No 1 overall pick Joe Burrow providing enough evidence to suggest he can lead the Cincinnatti Bengals for years to come before his season-ending injury.
And Young puts the immediacy of a quarterback’s impact in the league down to the development of coaching at younger levels.
“It’s a passing league now, and the fans want to see touchdown passes,” Young tells The Independent.
“The young quarterbacks are starting far earlier than expected, and you have to respect their understanding of the game.
“High school coaches do a really good job of teaching them more in advance than in my era – the X’s and O’s of the game, reading defences, understanding coverages and different terminology.
“I had a greater option to audible out of the play in my fifth year but you see it more today – in college as well – and that just shows you how smart these quarterbacks are.
“Finding an offensive coordinator or a quarterback coach who can critique and improve your game is important, but it is still down to you.
“Lamar Jackson was ridiculously doubted coming into the NFL, so to see him win MVP and almost go to the Super Bowl shows the hard work he put in.”
Like Jackson, Young is no stranger to using his legs to extend the play and rushed on fourth down to win the 2005 National Championship for the Texas Longhorns.
The 37-year old unsurprisingly believes it is increasingly important for a quarterback to run the ball due to the need to adapt to improved defensive scheming.
He said: “I hate doing this, but you have to give defences a little credit as they’re changing the game as well.
“They bring safeties down to linebacker and linebackers go to the defensive line to speed the game up, so offensive players have to adjust to that.
“The NFL recognises that the game is changing and when a team has a quarterback who can move like that, they want to take full advantage of it.”
The league understands the value of a quarterback to the sport, and – to the dismay of purists – penalise defences far more to protect them.
Young is relieved to see the position receive special treatment, but he doesn’t agree with some of the calls.
The former-Longhorn said: “The quarterback is the face of the team: they get the ball almost every play, everybody knows you and you get criticised for wins or losses, so it’s understandable.
“Even though Drew Brees got injured, that player wasn’t trying to hurt him and it was a good tackle.
“It’s hard to tell defensive players to slow down when they’re trying to be aggressive and make plays to represent themselves and their organisation.
“The way that we used to get hit, I never heard anyone crying. I understand it, but football is a physical game and people have to understand that.”
Traditionally, mobile quarterbacks get hurt often as they are more vulnerable to big hits.
Young urges the young stars of today to use their advanced maturity and influence within their franchise to take control of their future.
He added: “The NFL stands for ‘Not For Long’ – you want to make sure that you’re protecting yourself.
“The young quarterbacks are more mature nowadays, so I would like them to go to their front office and say what they want upfront, especially in regards to the offensive line.
“When I get the opportunity, I tell these guys to take a lesson from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and others that took a pay-cut to make sure the offensive line was taken care of.
“If you’re protected, you can play longer than most mobile quarterbacks.”
While he was influenced by the likes of Steve McNair and Michael Vick, Young welcomes the modern era of the NFL where mobile quarterbacks are far more common.
It is a more diverse era too, with the only three African-American quarterbacks to win MVP in the league’s 101-year history – Cam Newton, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson – playing today to inspire the next generation.
Young said: “Being a former player who has played the position, I’m just happy to see that the game is changing for good and these guys are representing the quarterback position in a special way.
“Patrick Mahomes is top of the charts right now with the game that he plays, just having fun with his weapons.
“I hope Russell Wilson wins MVP – I’m so proud of him. His story of playing baseball and transferring to get to where he is today is very promising.
“People said I was early for my time, but all I know is I did my part in opening more doors for African-American quarterbacks to be respected and believe they could play the position, so I’m happy to see that.”