Titans return to Houston with Young in limbo
Vince Young won't be celebrating another triumphant return to his hometown.
In 2006, the former Texas star quarterback dashed through the Houston Texans' defense for the winning touchdown for the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium, his first NFL game in the city where he grew up.
Young ripped off his helmet, ran toward a pack of fans wearing Longhorns gear and blew kisses to his family in the stands. He later called the moment one of the highlights of his career.
Since then, he's drawn as much attention for his negative behavior as his play. After this week's blowup with Titans coach Jeff Fisher, it's hard to gauge where Young's future is headed.
Fisher doesn't expect Young to be on the sideline when the Titans (5-5) visit the Texans (4-6) on Sunday. Rookie Rusty Smith will make his first career start following a tumultuous week that began with Young tearing a flexor tendon in his right thumb in the loss to Washington.
Young threw his pads into the stands after Fisher would not put him back in the game, and the two argued in the locker room afterward. Fisher said Young ''wasn't welcome'' at Monday's team meeting and was later placed on injured reserve.
Young wasn't traveling with the team to Houston, but Fisher said that's standard procedure for players on the injured list. The Titans have dropped three in a row, but Fisher said Young's situation hasn't disrupted preparations for facing the Texans.
''What we do on Monday is we meet and put the (previous) game in perspective, correct the mistakes, address any issues that took place, and then you move on,'' Fisher said. ''And that's what we've done.''
Young apologized to Fisher on Tuesday via text message, but that hardly seemed to repair the rift. Fisher said he didn't send a text in response, and hinted he would've preferred a face-to-face apology.
''This issue has nothing to do with what's going on this Sunday,'' Fisher said. ''Our focus is on our next opponent that's playing very well. This is a must-win game for both teams. That has no merit as far as what's going on here.''
The Titans encountered a second crisis on Wednesday, when Fisher announced that offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has been diagnosed with cancer and is expected to start chemotherapy treatment Monday.
Heimerdinger will still call the plays on Sunday and guide the 6-foot-5 Smith, one of Tennessee's sixth-round picks last summer. Smith beat out Chris Simms for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart and moved up when backup Kerry Collins strained his left calf in the Titans' 29-17 loss to Miami two weeks ago.
''We drafted Rusty particularly because of the type of things that he did in college,'' Fisher said. ''He played in a pro-style offense and made all the throws. He's a very accurate passer. He has a strong arm, (is) tall and sees well. He's very intelligent.''
Smith is the third starter for Tennessee in as many weeks, and the Titans signed Simms on Tuesday to be his backup. Collins will be listed as the Titans' No. 3 quarterback on Sunday.
Just about every opposing quarterback has looked good against the Texans' NFL-worst pass defense this season. Houston has dropped four straight games, and the secondary has given up long passes in the final seconds to lose the past two.
Last week, Mark Sanchez guided the New York Jets 72 yards in under a minute with no timeouts for the winning touchdown in a 30-27 victory. Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards down the sideline for 42 yards to set up a 6-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes with 10 seconds remaining.
Texans owner Bob McNair said Wednesday the team is ''underperforming'' and the late collapses are no longer acceptable.
''The team has got to realize that during that crunch time, you've got to turn it up,'' he said. ''The other team's going to turn it up. If we don't turn it up, we're going to be on the short end of the stick.''
Houston has allowed at least two TD receptions in eight straight games and given up a league-high 13 receptions covering 40 yards or more. The Titans' pass defense isn't much better, giving up 258.7 yards per game to rank 26th.
But the starting running backs might have more to say about the outcome than either secondary.
Houston's Arian Foster leads the NFL with 1,004 yards rushing and 1,382 total yards from scrimmage. Tennessee's Chris Johnson is third in the league and second in the AFC in rushing with 968 yards rushing.
Johnson, who's made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons and rushed for more than 2,000 years in 2009, says one of his goals this season is beating out Foster for the rushing title.
''It's very important to me,'' Johnson said. ''I can't worry about what he's doing. I just got to keep worrying about myself and hopefully at the end I'll be the leader. At the end of the day, I just worry about my job and just continue to put up numbers myself.''