There are other connections between the two quarterbacks, most notably involving their respective prospects for an NFL career. Young possessed wondrous athletic ability that enabled him to outclass the competition at the college level, but would that translate to the NFL? Leinart’s question focused mostly on his arm: Did he have one?
Since then, a lot of snaps from center have taken place, and in different uniforms, separated by quirks of fate and visits to the infirmary.
Young was drafted No. 3 overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2006 NFL draft. He played five seasons for the Titans before being released after the 2010 campaign. Then he signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. In May, he agreed to a deal with the Buffalo Bills as a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Leinart is also on his third franchise. He landed with the Arizona Cardinals, the No. 10 pick in that same draft. He was let go by the Cardinals during training camp in September 2010, and two days later signed to play a backup role with the Houston Texans. After two seasons in Houston, he agreed to a contract with the Oakland Raiders to back up former USC teammate Carson Palmer.
Bittersweet might be the best way to describe both careers: They’re still high-profile names earning paychecks playing the most popular sport in the land, yet life in the NFL didn’t turn out quite the way they’d hoped.
Then again, it isn’t over.
“It’s definitely been a learning process,” Young said. “I’m definitely happy with everything I’ve learned, good and bad. You have to make adjustments and realize that things happen for a reason. Right now for my career I’m not looking at negatives. I’m just going to continue to work and wait for the opportunity to get in there and showcase my talents.”
Leinart is equally philosophical. “I’m not going to give up,” he said. “I’m going to keep fighting. I feel I will catch a good break and get a chance to play and be the quarterback I know I can be. I’m going to keep working toward that goal.”
So what happened to these two?
After legendary careers both at the high school (Madison High in Houston) and college levels, Young began his NFL days auspiciously. He was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 2006, and is a two-time Pro Bowler, in the ’06 and ’09 seasons as a Titan.
But Young was the draft choice of Titans owner Bud Adams, not so much then head coach Jeff Fisher. In ’08, Young suffered a knee injury, was replaced by veteran Kerry Collins, and from that point on his tenure in Tennessee saw spotty success. In the ’09 season he was high on some “Comeback Player of the Year” votes, yet in 2010 he was released, perhaps triggered by an incident in the middle of the season in which he threw his shoulder pads into the stands and got into a heated altercation with Fisher in the locker room.
There was also a bizarre incident in 2008 in which Young disappeared for a time after being booed by fans.
Norm Chow has a unique place in the histories of both Leinart and Young. He was USC’s offensive coordinator when Leinart took over as starting quarterback after Palmer moved on. And he was the Titans’ offensive coordinator when Young came to the franchise.
“That was a very interesting scenario when Vince and Matt came out,” said Chow, now the head coach at Hawaii. “The Titans wanted Vince. He’s a very, very talented young man. It might have been better if he were treated like any other rookie quarterback and not be put into the situation as quickly as he was.
“Carson (Palmer) told me that the one year he sat out in Cincinnati (Palmer did not play his entire rookie season of 2003) was the best, because he was able to learn how to be a pro. Vince was put right into the action. He might have been just a tad immature when he took over the job.”
Young, now 29, acknowledges as much. He said he now spends his days learning the Bills’ system, while he and his wife and son become acquainted with the city of Buffalo and its fans. And he has performed well in pursuit of the backup job; his showing Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings put some distance between him and Tyler Thigpen, another candidate for the spot.
“I just learned a lot off the field and on the field,” he said. “It’s just everyday life to me. I felt it was all going to happen anyway. You never know how fast you’re going to mature and how fast you’re not going to mature.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
In Arizona, when it appeared he was the presumptive favorite to start, he was either beaten out by Kurt Warner, or he was hurt. The Heisman Trophy winner has suffered three season-ending injuries in his NFL career — in 2006, ’07 and last year, when it appeared he finally had his chance to take over as a starter in place of the injured Matt Schaub. But almost immediately, Leinart suffered a broken collarbone and missed the rest of the season.
“There was definitely a point last year when I was down and said to myself, ‘I don’t know if I want to put myself through this again,’ ” said Leinart, who left Friday night’s exhibition against Arizona with a cut on his non-throwing hand. “The ups and downs are the mental part of football. You experience an emotional high throwing a touchdown pass, and then you can suffer an emotional low within 10 minutes.
“There was definitely a period that was tough for me. I was thinking, ‘This was my shot, and look what happened.’ But a couple months go by, you heal, and you become more positive again.”
PFT: Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith said the draft process taught him an important lesson on taking criticism.
Y! Sports: Redskins fans found what appeared to be the wedding registry for Robert Griffin III and fiancee Rebecca Liddicoat, and they helped out their star QB.
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