ORCHARD PARK —
The notion that Tyler Thigpen could possibly be a better backup quarterback option for the Bills than Vince Young is as puzzling as the Dwight Howard trade.
While neither player was all that impressive in Thursday night’s preseason opener — following the trend established by starter Ryan Fitpatrick — Young was able to provide what Thigpen could not.
Something to be even somewhat enthusiastic about.
It sure says something when a guy completes 5 of 12 passes in the second half of a preseason game and improves his standing in a quarterback competition. Young wound up being the game's leading rusher and flashed his superior athletic ability on a scramble to pick up a third-and-20. There are but a handful of players in the NFL who can make a play like that, and one of them, lining up for the visiting team here last night, is thought to be a future star in the league.
It wasn’t that long ago that we all thought that about Young. Remember the remarkable runs as a rookie that dragged the Titans to a pivotal December win at the Ralph? Remember how he made the Pro Bowl that year, was on the cover of Madden the next, and was once thought to be the prototype for the next generation of quarterbacks, an earlier incarnation of RGIII? Remember the Rose Bowl?
Sure, Young’s career path went off a cliff since then. He has failed to develop as a passer and earned sharp critcism for his failures of leadership and professionalism.
But he remains able to make plays most quarterbacks can only dream about. Plays Thigpen probably couldn’t even make in a Madden game.
It is disconcerting that Young didn't really distinguish himself playing against second-stringers. Let’s remember, however, that Young wasn't brought in to be the starter, or even push Fitzpatrick. He's on a one-year deal, and there are no expectations for him to be any sort of savior, as would have been the case if the Bills were to have drafted a player of his pedigree.
He merely has to give the Bills a better backup plan than Thigpen, a vertibale nobody in this league, so lackluster of a quarterback that when London Fletcher cracked Fitzpatrick’s ribs in Toronto, Gailey turned to Brad Smith and the Wildcat offense, though that had something to do with the fact Thigpen got hit in the head with the ball while warming up his arm.
Thigpen is on this team because he put up decent numbers while running one of Gailey’s gimmick offenses and winning one of 11 starts for the Chiefs in 2008. That’s the top line on his résumé. He was awful in subsequent years with the Dolphins, and bad enough last year that the Bills went wishing on a fallen star with Young.
As poor as Young’s passing numbers have been over the past few seasons, they are still superior to Thigpen’s. Young is taller. He has a much stronger arm. And, of course, he runs laps around his competition when he breaks out of the pocket.
Thigpen entered the game before Young on Thursday because in practices and meetings so far, Young hasn’t proved to be much better. And maybe he won’t turn out to be a much better backup when the regular season rolls around.
But he can’t be much worse. And it’s well worth spending a season trying to find out if there’s any untapped potential in that blessed body of his.
Write to sports editor Jonah Bronstein at email@example.com.