Forget the notion that there’s any sort of rivalry between quarterbacks Vince Young and Matt Leinart.
The more appropriate word is empathy.
Neither one of the top two signal callers drafted in 2006 made a seamless transition to the NFL. Each was thrown into the fire for a time as rookies only to be put on ice in the seasons that followed.
Monday night, though, they will be the starting quarterbacks when the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals meet in a prime-time game at LP Field.
“I’m excited for him,” Young said Thursday. “It’s his turn. He’s been waiting and I know how he feels.”
Young (the third overall selection in 2006) helped ignite the Titans’ run to respectability in 2006 when he replaced Kerry Collins after six games and helped the team to eight victories in the final 10 weeks.
He was a central figure in a similar resurgence in 2006, when he started the final 13 games and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. In between he endured one season (2008) when he saw the field just three times and concerns were raised about his maturity and mental well-being.
Leinart (the 10th overall selection) started 11 times and appeared in 12 games as a rookie but played a total of 17 times with six starts in the next three seasons. His only start of the last two years was a 20-17 loss to the Titans last season, when Young drove Tennessee 99 yards and threw the game-winning touchdown pass on the final play.
He entered camp this summer as the Cardinals’ starter due to the retirement of Kurt Warner.
Through the weeks the led up to the draft and the common struggles in recent years, the two have developed a genuine connection.
“Me and Matt Leinart are really good friends,” Young said.
They’re also pretty good competitors.
Last season’s dramatic matchup was reminiscent of the final game of their college careers, the BCS championship contest that concluded the 2005 season. Then, Young and the University of Texas rallied for a 41-38 victory over Leinart and Southern California.
Both will be on the bench well before the fourth quarter on Monday, but based on their play in their respective preseason openers there’s a chance that they’ll try to one-up each other in their limited action.
Young completed his first five passes for 78 yards before he threw an interception on his final play in a 20-18 loss at Seattle. Leinart was 6-for-7 for 49 yards in a 19-16 victory over Houston.
“We’re playing to win the game; it’s going to be a great environment in the preseason because of the Monday Night show,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “You’d like to win at home, but I think everybody understands that our starters could score 14 points and not give up any, and then the backups come in and give up 17 and you lose. We all understand what preseason is about.
“We’ve got to get our starters ready to play in the regular season. We’ll do the best we can to try and create situations where the other guys can be productive.”