Along with Reggie Bush and maybe Mario Williams, Vince Young and Matt Leinart were the faces of the 2006 NFL draft. Only a few months prior, Young and Leinart quarterbacked against one another in one of the best college football games of all time, the ’06 Rose Bowl. They were the pivots from the best two teams in the country. Bush, who was Leinart’s running back at USC, was one of the most electric players in the history of college football.
But here we are five years later, and Bush, Young and Leinart are all considered busts. The three top-10 picks have all moved on to new teams and taken on less glamorous roles as pro football players.
But coincidentally, all three players have suddenly emerged back into the limelight together.
Bush, now in Miami after being booted by the Saints, is coming off arguably the best three-week stretch of his pro career and has a chance to finally establish himself as a top back.
Young, now in Philadelphia after being booted by the Titans, is about to make his first start in a calendar year (almost to the day), when he steps in for an injured Michael Vick in Week 11.
Leinart, now in Houston after being booted by the Cardinals, is about to make his first start in two calendar years (almost to the day), when he steps in for an injured Matt Schaub in Week 12. He hasn’t thrown a single NFL pass since 2009.
Young and Leinart are now backups through and through. Nothing short of a miracle would cause either player to supplant the starter in their respective cities. That said, both are trying to salvage something in pressure-packed situations.
In Philly, an incredibly promising season is on the verge of being flushed down the toilet. The Eagles would likely have to run the table over the final seven games to save their season. But while the expectations are still low for Young, he has always had a knack for winning. In his up-and-down career, the former No. 3 overall pick has 30 wins to just 17 losses.
But it’s Leinart who everyone’s talking about. Maybe that’s because Young has had more unsuccessful kicks at the can than him — Leinart is 7-10 in just 17 career starts — or maybe it’s because Schaub’s injury could mean the former No. 10 overall pick will be charged with leading the Texans franchise into its first-ever postseason.
It’s funny. Bush, Young and Leinart were all essentially fired by their original employers — all of whom invested millions in them — within the 10-month stretch that spanned from the start of the 2010 season to the start of the abbreviated 2011 offseason. In fact, Bush was traded from the Saints to the Dolphins only hours before Young was released by the Titans. Neither Young nor Leinart could fetch anything on the trade market. They had to settle for backup roles in their new homes.
Now, with his old college teammate Bush finally experiencing some redemption in Florida, Leinart will begin his attempt at redemption in the same state, when the Texans travel to Jacksonville after their Week 11 bye. No one’s talking about Young’s latest final chance, but, barring a stunning recovery to Vick’s ribs, that’ll begin this week in New York, when the Eagles play the Giants.
So it’s likely Young only serves as a spot starter before giving way to Philadelphia’s $100-million franchise quarterback, but there’s no guarantee that Schaub returns this year. Leinart will truly have a clean shot at redemption.
And maybe the stars are aligned. After all, he’s had 14 months to learn the offense, he’ll have two weeks to prepare for his first game and he’ll be supported by one of the game’s best receivers (assuming Andre Johnson is finally ready to return from injury), one of the game’s best offensive lines and one of the game’s best running backs. Plus, Schaub didn’t play defense, and Houston is ranked first in the league defensively.
On top of all that, there’s word out of Texas that Leinart has checked his infamous ego. And a lot of a quarterback’s success is tied to his mentality.
“When people ask me what Matt Leinart’s like, I think they expect me to say he’s some brash, cocky kid who doesn’t work very hard,” Texans right tackle Eric Winston told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. “It’s totally wrong. The first year he was here, he wanted to come in on Saturday to do extra work to try to catch up in the offense. Nobody knows that side of him. He’s been a great teammate, totally supportive of Matt, and well-liked in the locker room. He knows, we all know, that quarterback is not an easily replaceable piece. But I believe the guys on this team really have faith he can do it.”
It’ll be fun to see what Leinart can do under ideal circumstances in Houston, especially since he’s been MIA for two years running. It’ll also be interesting to see how Young performs in his first big-stage appearance as an Eagle. And it’ll continue to be both fun and interesting to watch as Bush resurrects his career in teal.
The next few weeks may serve as a blast from football’s past.