Young’s stock on the move

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Texans say they won’t take hometown hero with top pick in Saturday’s draft.

Nobody quite knows what to make of Vince Young.

A quarterback? For sure. The best one on this weekend’s draft board? Well, it’s funny how a player’s stock can rise and fall in the span of weeks and months.

The Texas quarterback, one of the best “athletes” in the draft, once struggled so much with the Longhorns that some felt he’d be better off at another position. These days, that conversation is long gone. But so is some of the luster from his Rose Bowl performance, a game in which he led the Longhorns to the national title and, at least for a time, surpassed USC’s Matt Leinart in many opinions as the best quarterback, maybe the best player, in the draft.

“It’s been kind of up and down,” said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, who most recently rated Young the fourth-best player available. “But my attitude is that any quarterback taken in the draft is going to be a project.”

Floyd Reese, general manager for the Tennessee Titans, who are considering taking Young with the third pick, said “I don’t think I’ve seen a quarterback with the athleticism he has, and we had Steve McNair for a while.”

Indeed, Young’s athleticism is stunning. And his timing was impeccable. He showed off the whole package, playing for the national title on Jan. 4 in the Rose Bowl. He passed for 267 yards, ran for 200 more and scrambled 8 yards on fourth down with 19 seconds left for the winning touchdown – his third of the night – in a 41-38 win over Leinart and USC.

It was sweet redemption for the junior out of Houston, who was bitterly disappointed after losing the Heisman Trophy to USC’s Reggie Bush. And Young outplayed Leinart, who came into the game viewed as the better, more polished, more NFL-ready quarterback.

Suddenly, a player who wasn’t even sure if he would leave Texas looked like he might be the best player in the college game. He decided to go pro. With his hometown team, the Houston Texans, picking first, many thought it would be a perfect fit.

“I walked into the grocery store the other day and some guy was hollering Vince’s name at me from three aisles over,” said Houston’s new coach, Gary Kubiak. “I’ve been places where people are talking about Reggie Bush. I guess I don’t see it that way as much as some people may see it.”

Like most coaches who have seen Young work out, Kubiak said he was impressed. Still, the Texans signed David Carr to a three-year extension in February, signaling they’re set at quarterback for a while. On Wednesday, they said they will select either Bush or North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams.

“There’s too much time from the end of the season until draft time, so everyone gets over-critiqued,” Longhorns coach Mack Brown said.

There is, indeed, a lot of time for opinions to change after the gleam of the championship game fades.

That’s especially true for a player like Young, the likes of which nobody has seen before, the kind of player who doesn’t fit a particular mold.

“He has the size, the accuracy and the throwing action,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “He’s a spectacular talent, but he doesn’t look like anybody. So that tends to make us all nervous. He gets downgraded for that.”

There is the widely reported 6 out of a possible 50 that he scored on the Wonderlic test at the NFL scouting combine. NFL officials denied that score was correct and Young’s agent, Major Adams, said Young scored a 16 the next day, when the test was readministered. Regardless, the Wonderlic controversy fed into doubts about Young’s ability to run an NFL offense.

There are issues about his arm strength and his awkward, sidearm delivery.

There is the fact he played almost exclusively out of the shotgun in college.

There is his decision to hire Adams, a family friend who has made a handful of unorthodox decisions on behalf of his client – for instance, having Young skip workouts at the NFL combine, but participate in a made-for-TV “All Star Challenge” in Miami in early February.

There is his penchant to think run first, which worked at the college level but hasn’t proven to work in the pros, as the Michael Vick experience in Atlanta is showing.

But, says Billick, “He really doesn’t fit into that Vick category.” He doesn’t really fit into any category. Maybe because of it, Young has hardly acted like a player who thinks he’ll be chosen in the top five.

Adams did not respond to several Associated Press requests to interview Young for this story.

The quarterback did tell his hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle, that he keeps pushing forward, ignoring the critics and hoping for the best.

“I don’t listen to negative things from people that don’t understand the game,” Young said. “When I hear positive things, it shows people that know football are really paying attention.”

Indeed, it’s hard not to pay attention to a player like Vince Young. He is 6-foot-4, 229 pounds. He runs the 40 in 4.57 seconds, nearly 0.30 seconds faster than Leinart. He has a laser of an arm, but nobody is quite sure how he’ll use it in the NFL.

He is projected as almost anything. Some see a classic, strong-armed, stand-in-the-pocket passer. Others see a scrambling playmaker. Still others envision a hybrid, someone who could play more than quarterback – kind of like Kordell Stewart, only more talented.

“He’s a projection,” Kiper said. “Anyone who takes him has to know that.”

In summing up, almost everyone agrees that Young is quite a player. It’s just that nobody quite knows what to make of him.

“Vince Young seems to be the most interesting and debatable topic right now,” Billick said. “After the fact, if Vince Young makes it, then you’ll hear, I knew he would.’ If he doesn’t make it, you’ll hear, That’s why we had him rated that low.”‘

AP-ES-04-26-06 1649EDT

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