Eagles' Young hopes to make case as Vick's backup

Vince Young is battling to be the Eagles' backup QB. After a slow start at training camp, he has improved markedly.
Vince Young is battling to be the Eagles' backup QB. After a slow start at training camp, he has improved markedly. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 01, 2011

What if Michael Vick gets hurt early in the season?

Do the Eagles go to Vince Young to replace Vick at quarterback, or do they look to Mike Kafka?

Lately, the prevailing thought has been that coach Andy Reid won't call on the former Titans quarterback early in the season because Young isn't well-versed in the offense.

While it's true that Young does not know the playbook as well as Kafka, it's been overstated how reluctant Reid would be to hand the offense to Young.

If Vick were to get injured in September - and it's not out of the realm of possibilities considering the Eagles offensive line - Reid would look to his quarterbacks, and one thing would stand out: Young, 30 wins in 48 career starts; Kafka, zero wins in zero starts.

Reid has yet to name his backup. In Thursday's preseason finale at the New York Jets, in which Vick will rest, Young is slated to start and play in the first half before Kafka takes over in the second half.

Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg insist the competition is still open. But both have made it a point to single out Young's experience and winning percentage (62.5) since the Eagles signed him in late July.

"I think that's an important thing," Reid said Tuesday of Young's win-loss mark. "He's a tough competitive nut, man. He likes to play, so for him to go through this is probably a little bit like what Michael went through as far as watching."

While both Vick and Young are reclamation projects - Vick's now complete - Young came to the Eagles under different circumstances. When Vick arrived in August 2009, Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb were ahead of him on the depth chart, and, other than his small role in the Wildcat, he wasn't asked to shoulder much.

Young, despite a late start because he was signed as a free agent in a compressed offseason, has taken nearly every repetition with the second team since his first practice four weeks ago. Some of that has been out of necessity because he's so new to the Eagles offense. But mainly it's because the Eagles need him to be ready.

"I'm just trying to catch up," Young said. "Just trying to get into the same comfort zone that Mike [Vick] is in - both Mikes. Making sure I'm calling the right things, saying the right things, making sure the cadence is [right]. It's coming along pretty good."

His well-documented slow start in training camp was just that - a slow start. By the time the preseason games came around, Young was much sharper. In three games he has completed 17 of 27 passes for 137 yards. He hasn't thrown a touchdown and did toss an interception, but he has also run six times for 27 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run against the Browns last week.

"It's learning every day," Young said. "Yes, I'm stepping into a whole new offense. But I can honestly say it was good to see a lot of defenses when I was in Nashville."

Young's five-year stay with the Titans was tumultuous, with great highs and forgettable lows. Drafted third overall in 2006, he started almost immediately and proved he could win even if he lost some style points. But when he struggled, the heavy expectations bore on Young, who heard every single boo.

By last season the rift between him and coach Jeff Fisher could not be sewn, and Young was benched for good. When owner Bud Adams - once a staunch supporter - announced in January that the quarterback would not be back, Young had hit bottom.

Reid and Mornhinweg believe they can resurrect the 28-year-old's career. As he did with Vick, Reid spoke with Young before he signed him and came away convinced that he had a willing student to mold.

"I had a good visit with him," Reid said. "We talked about a few things. I felt like he was in the right place to do this. This is tough now for him because since he was probably a little shooter he's always been 'the man.' And now he was willing to take a step back to take a step forward."

He stepped immediately into controversy when he called the Eagles collection of players a "Dream Team" - an assessment that has been picked at by the media and other teams. Former quarterback and current CBS analyst Boomer Esiason was the latest to criticize Young.

"If I'm Vince Young trying to resurrect my career, I keep my mouth shut," Esiason said in Tuesday's USA Today. "This is a guy who cried on the bench down in Tennessee when he was being booed. If he thinks those Tennessee fans were tough, he better hope Michael Vick doesn't get hurt for an extended period of time."

The odds are Vick will get hurt at some point. He missed almost four games because of a cracked rib last season. Vick, of course, jumped in for Kolb when the latter suffered a concussion in the opener.

If Vick goes down this season, Reid will have two quarterbacks to choose from, because the third-quarterback rule (No. 3 QBs were not on the active rosters, and the starter could not return if the third-stringer played) has been discarded. Young's success in the NFL gives him a decided advantage, but the choice may ultimately come down to who is best-prepared.

"That's the biggest thing," Young said. "Myself, Mike, we have to be ready."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com, or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.


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