It was the best of times, it was the worse of times. Both Vince Young and Matt Leinart could have uttered those words during their respective pro careers to date. In fact, the two have a lot in common. One obvious similarity is that they both dominated during their college careers. Each quarterback won a National Championship, with Leinart achieving the feat twice. In addition, both quarterbacks had up and down starts to their respective pro careers, both on the field and off it. There seems to be, however, one major difference between the two quarterbacks. We’ll get to that important distinction later.
After some early up and down performances through his first two seasons, which included a broken collarbone that ended his 2007 season, Leinart found himself sitting on the bench. A 38-year old quarterback took his job in a flash during the 2008 pre-season. That year, Warner would lead the previously hapless Cardinals to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. In 2009, Leinart once again found himself trailing along in Warner’s wake with the Cardinals making another playoff run.
Vince Young also had some early success in his pro career. In 2006, he won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award and made the Pro Bowl. The success, however, would be short lived as he battled through quad and knee injuries that limited his playing time throughout 2007 and 2008. Like Leinart, however, Young found himself in the shadow of an aging but resurgent veteran, Kerry Collins. When the Titans started the 2009 season by dropping their first six games, Vince Young got his chance to take the top spot back from Collins. Young didn’t squander the opportunity as he led the Titans to a 8-2 record as a starter down the stretch. The Titans, however, missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
The first professional meeting between the two players came in Week 12 of the 2009 season. Although Leinart played fairly well (21/31; 220 yards; 67.7% completion; 0 TDs; 0 INTs), Young clearly got the better of the two by leading his Titans to a 99-yard game winning drive with no time left for Leinart to retaliate; shades of the BCS National Championship game.
Not only did Young get the better of Leinart then, but he’s arguably been the better pro quarterback to date. Leinart has a modest 7-10 record in 10 career starts for the Cardinals. Young, on the other hand, is 26-13 as a starter and has two Pro Bowl appearances, with the latter appearance as an alternate. Their quarterback ratings, interestingly enough are quite close: Young – 72.3, Leinart – 70.8. In addition, both quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns: Young – 32 TDs, 29 INTs, Leinart – 14 TDs, 20 INTs. Finally, Young far eclipses Leinart in passing yards, but simply because he’s started more games.
Statistically, therefore, the quarterbacks don’t seem all that different. So where’s the major difference? Well, it’s already been stated, albeit not directly. Vince Young has apparently turned the corner as a starter in the NFL. He took an 0-6 team and turned it into a fierce competitor, almost making the post-season in the process. Yes, Young had Chris Johnson running the ball, but Leinart has had plenty of offensive weapons as well. We’re still waiting for Leinart to turn the corner.
The worst part is that we may be waiting right up until Leinart’s time with the Cardinals is over. It’s too early to tell what product we’ll get on the field this year, but we can make some assessments of Leinart’s mentality to date.
In that regard, one thing that’s always bothered me about Leinart was his statements regarding Warner. Specifically, Leinart would reference that it’s hard to perform at his best when he had to “look over his shoulder” and worry about Warner taking his job. In addition, when Warner retired, Leinart again mentioned that he’s excited to know that he wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore. It seems to me that a winner doesn’t worry about looking over his should at all. A winner, rather, is confident in his ability and doesn’t look anywhere but straight ahead.
As much as Whisenhunt has tried to back Leinart (and he has) and as much as Leinart claims that he’s ready to lead this team, something just doesn’t seem to click for him. You just don’t get the feeling that Leinart is confident. Perhaps it’s his self-proclaimed laid back attitude. Maybe he’s waiting for the regular season to really turn it on. Maybe the Cardinals just blew it with the 10th pick in the 2006 draft. Maybe he’ll shock everyone this year.
We’ll get a look at both quarterbacks this Monday in Tennessee as the two continue to write their NFL tales.