2005 Position-By-Position Preview: QB

Just how focused and resolute is QB Vince Young about the 2005 season? Consider what happened when Mack Brown called his star QB at home on a recent Saturday night...

"Some coaches say don't call your quarterback at home, in Houston, at 9:30 p.m., on Saturday." Brown laughed.

Translated: a head coach really doesn't want to know what his unsupervised, marquee players are doing at that hour. And the fact that Young was whispering throughout the conversation raised a minor concern for Brown.

"Where are you?" Brown asked.

"At home," Young replied, but barely audible.

"Why are you whispering?" Brown continued. "What are you doing?"

"We're watching the film from the Oklahoma State game," said Young, one of four Longhorns huddled around the VCR.

Loud and clear: VY is a man on a mission. And he is a very unassuming 'superstar', according to teammate Rod Wright. The LDT knows that the best defense is to keep your offense on the field. He also knows that VY has become a national collegiate quarterback following his record-setting Rose Bowl performance

"We clown around and call him 'Superstar' but he's a very humble guy," Wright said. "He's very goofy. He's a real laid-back guy."

A couple of UT coaches later suggested (to Brown) that Young probably was only joking when he reported that he was watching the Oklahoma State tape. A 22-year old at home on a Saturday night? Watching game film? C'mon! But Brown tends to believe Young.

"I'm not sure he wasn't telling the truth," Brown said.

There's been nothing about Young since January 1 that would indicate otherwise. Throughout the spring, and especially this summer, Young has been a rare combination of determination and playfulness. He keeps players loose and relaxed, but he keeps the carrot dangling in front of their faces. And that carrot is a golden opportunity for a storied program, recently accustomed to runner-up status, to forge one of those seasons for the ages.

Brown has vouched that both Young and Wright have assumed the leadership reigns responsible for between 60 and 70 (by Wright's estimation) Longhorns participating in voluntary summer workouts. I'm telling you, I don't think there's been this much singleness-of-purpose on an entire Texas football team since the 'Shock the Nation' Tour 15 years ago. The difference is the 1990 Longhorns, after suffering three losing seasons in four years, were fed up and weren't going to settle for anything less than a conference title. They, of course, produced a spotless Southwest Conference record and were rated No. 3 nationally at the end of the regular season with an outside shot at the national championship. The current program, however, has produced 11-win seasons in three of the past four years and is riding the momentum of Texas' first-ever BCS Bowl win.

Young views the 38-37 win over Michigan, in which he set a school record for QBs with 192 yards rushing, as his national coming-out party. His five touchdowns set a new Rose Bowl record for the modern era while his 372 yards of total offense ranks fourth all-time in Rose Bowl history.

"When I go out, people would already know who I was," Young said. "Somebody would say, 'Oh, that's Vince Young.' When I walk around without a helmet on, they know who I am now -- not just in Houston and Austin but everywhere now."

Does that type of notoriety bother him?

"It's not a bother; it's a blessing," he said.

Young connected on 16-of-28 passes for 180 yards against the Wolverines to cap a mid-season upswing in which his completion percentage jumped from 54.8 percent (62 of 113 passes for 758 yards) during the first six games of 2004 to 62.7 percent (86-of-137 for 1,091 yards) down the stretch. Brown's mantra throughout the spring is that Young has improved significantly since the Rose Bowl. So I asked VY where he thought he has made the greatest strides in his game since Pasadena.

"I'm more relaxed, man, as a quarterback and sitting in the pocket, getting the ball where it's supposed to be at the right time," he told me.

Other than improving the timing and accuracy in his passing game, Young added that part of his growth since the bowl game was simply "having fun with the guys and being a leader. And having fun with (the media) when y'all come down. Just being me, overall. Period. And coach Brown has given me more opportunities to be me."

One of the key areas where Young intends to improve is his sloppy starts. He wants to protect the ball better and not create the type of hole his turnovers created in games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, for example. Young's career TD-to-INT ratio is dead even at 18 apiece. (By comparison, Major Applewhite threw two TDs for every single INT (39 TD/20 INT) during his first two seasons. The flip-side is that Young's completion percentage (.590 on 232-of-393 passing) tops the list of all Texas quarterbacks at the end of their first two years.

The jury is still out on whether Young is, indeed, a dual threat QB. Last year, he was the nation's leading rushing QB (89.9 ypg) but finished the season ranked No. 82 in passing (148-of-250 for 1,849 yards). But consecutive comeback wins last November proved that Young can beat you with his arm and his feet. Young completed 19 of his final 20 passes for 222 yards as he led the Horns on seven straight scoring drives in that 56-35 win over Oklahoma State, the biggest comeback in school history. He finished the game by completing his final 12 passes, breaking Chris Simms' record for 11 straight completions (2001). One week later at Kansas, Young sprinted around right end for 22 yards on a critical 4th-and-18 play for a season-saving first down. (Simply put, there is no Rose Bowl for the Horns if Young runs for only 17.)

Backup Matt Nordgren returns for his fifth season after playing in just seven career games. But the 6-5 Nordgren is swift and accurate enough to where Texas would not have to install a completely different offense should be pressed into action. Nordgren had the longest run of the spring game, picking up 34 yards around left end on the zone read.

Freshman Colt McCoy is the only other scholarship QB on campus and, as such, will not be redshirted this season, Brown said. Some have questioned how easily the two-time Associated Press 2A Offensive MVP can transition into big time college football. But McCoy held his own among the all-stars from larger programs during last week's Texas High School Coaches Association game in San Antonio. The 6-3, 190-pounder threw for a game-high 183 yards on 10-of-18 passing.

The only question is which backup QB should get the lion's share of snaps (Nordgren has a firmer grasp of the offense and deserves to play; McCoy could be the only returning scholarship QB next season and needs the game-day experience). [For more, see No Controversy, But Who Is The Backup QB?]

But there is no question whose team this is in 2005.

Players report on Sunday morning. The first practice of 2005 is set for 6:30 p.m. at Denius Field and is open to the public.

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