Friday, April 10, 2009

Why, VY?

I was wrong about Vince Young. I remember thinking when he was at Texas that he had a nasty-looking throwing motion, that he played in that gimmicky spread offense enabling him to see the field easily and complete a high percentage of his passes, and that nearly all of his big plays came from what he did with his feet, rather than his arm. Those were the negatives, and I discounted all of them because it seemed like he had a good enough arm, enough accuracy, and most importantly those intangibles that sports people like to talk about: heart, desire, and the ever nebulous “leadership qualities.” We heard stories about how he saw his teammates slacking off during an early season practice after their win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl the previous year and said something like, “The Rose Bowl is over, y’all!” and made everyone spring into action. I heard that and was impressed. It seemed like his teammates loved him and that he could be a rah-rah kind of guy because he backed it up with his play on the field. This was a guy to follow and get behind because he’s going to be special.

Conversely, a guy like Ryan Leaf had the physical makeup to be a prototypical NFL QB because of his size and cannon arm, but he lacked these intangibles. He was hated by his teammates because he was a crybaby with a terrible attitude and lacked real confidence. VY was the complete opposite, except for the size, of course, since he and Leaf are both 6’5 and over 230. Where Leaf got by on his arm, VY got by on his legs, but had great team success because he was able to will his team to wins. Look no further than those two Rose Bowl games against Michigan and USC. He was unstoppable.

It just seemed that VY would be able to overcome his unorthodox throwing motion, learn an NFL offense, and become a star because those intangibles that he possessed are much harder, if not impossible, to develop, than a nice throwing motion. Leaf never came close to being a leader in the NFL, because he never was one at Washington State. Meanwhile, VY hasn’t developed any sort NFL-caliber arm, and hasn’t mastered an NFL offense to the degree that he can be counted on to win games—far from it. He’s been relegated to the bench and all logical signs point to him getting kicked out of Tennessee. He would be jettisoned without question if he wasn’t such a high draft pick and owed so much money, but he will be gone soon. But it’s not because he can’t throw pretty passes and it’s not because he hasn’t mastered Tennessee’s offense, which, let’s be honest, is not known as one of the most complex in the league given the amount that the team runs the ball. He’s going to be kicked to the curb because of his attitude. He’s going to be kicked to the curb because he lacks those very intangibles that I thought he had. He seems to be a crappy teammate. He seems to lack heart. He seems to lack desire. He has shown no semblance that he can be any kind of leader. Quite the opposite, he’s shown himself to be a moody, brooding, baby. Not all that different from Ryan Leaf.

So, is there something to downfalls of these two guys? Are they more similar than they appear to be? Are there any other similar causative indicators? Both were picked high in the draft (Leaf No. 2, VY No. 3), but Leaf was thrust into the starting position early, while VY took a backseat. They both played in the Rose Bowl? Yeah, but Leaf lost and VY won, in dramatic fashion. If I had to guess, and that’s exactly what I’m doing, then I’d say it comes down to the relationships that both players had with their head coaches in college.

Mack Brown at Texas is known to overly coddle his players. For whatever reason, Brown thinks that it’s best to be loved by his players rather than feared (or respected, even). He did the same thing with Chris Simms (who hasn’t turned out to be worth a damn in the NFL, spleen or no spleen), going so far as to answer difficult questions posed to Simms during post-game press conferences. Dude, you can’t protect these kids forever and they will NOT be ready to succeed once they are out on their own. They won’t know how to handle any sort of adversity if they are not faced with any early on in their careers. You can’t change their pissy bed sheets forever. Mike Price, Leaf’s coach at Washington State at the time, treated Leaf in much the same way. Because Leaf was so immensely talented, Price enabled Leaf to be the jackass that he was. He stuck up for him no matter what, and while it served both of them well while Leaf was gunslinging in Pullman, Leaf fell flat on his face when he left the nest. The same thing is happening with VY. He has no idea how to handle himself when things go wrong. It’s as if the world doesn’t understand that he’s the man and needs to be treated as such. Why should he change his ways if he’s always been the messiah?

It sucks because as much as I detested Ryan Leaf, anyone could see that he was talented, and it’s cool to see talented guys perform. True fans of sports and competition, allegiances and biases aside, want to see the best at their best. Leaf was great, and now he’s adrift. It’s a shame. VY is abundantly talented and can definitely turn it around because his career is in its pupa stages, but he’s definitely headed in Leaf’s direction if he doesn’t figure it out soon. I hope that he does because he’s fun to watch, but I’m dubious.

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