49ers' system makes Young a speed reader

January 31, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

MIAMI -- What Steve Young could do with professional credibility is offer a stand-up commercial testimonial for speed-reading. He would be able to sell it, even if he had to roll out to avoid the interruptions of telephone calls, salesmen knocking on the door or a wave of tacklers pursuing him with hostile intent.

Young's ability to take a quick look at defensive coverages in relation to the location of his receivers, and deciding where to throw, sets him apart among quarterbacks in this precisely specialized category.

The ability to recognize, within five seconds, the best place to direct a pass, or whether to take it on the lam, gives him an identity that has too often been minimized in football, especially by the uninitiated.

Young became the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XXIX by leading the San Francisco 49ers to a 49-26 cakewalk over the San Diego Chargers. He was both the leading passer (24 of 36 for 325 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions) and the top runner (five sprints for 49 yards, a 9.8 average) as he dissected a foe into almost helpless befuddlement.

Now there have been better throwers -- Y.A. Tittle, Sammy Baugh, the late Bev Wallace, Sonny Jurgensen, John Brodie and Norm Van Brocklin, to name a few . And maybe flashier runners, such as Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach and George Shaw.

And included among clever ball-handlers are Bob Waterfield, Frankie Albert and Eddie LeBaron. And, if you want to put all the qualities together there is incomparable John Unitas, the consummate, who could do more things better than anyone else.

Yet when it comes to quickly assessing defenses, Young is a foremost nominee. What allows his powers of concentration to be so effective is an offense that fits him to a T -- formation that is.

Young doesn't like the shotgun offense because it requires longer to catch the pass from center, raise his arm and position himself as opposed to a mere snap. He doesn't want to remove his eyes from examining a predetermined area, if only for a fraction of a second, of where he may elect to go with the ball.

Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh worked on the idea when an assistant to the late Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1970s. He had a passer, Virgil Carter, who had trouble throwing long, so Walsh extracted the maximum by fitting a system to the player, rather than vice-versa.

"What I wanted was to get the same precision into the passing game that Vince Lombardi gave to the running game with the Green Bay Packers," he explained. "The distinct timing of passes related to quarterbacks and receivers. The quarterback was then going to have to go through a sequence of receivers in what amounted to an almost mechanical method."

The offense is designed to get five potential targets into locations where the quarterback can find them with one swift glance. That's what Young does with proficiency, as witness the excellent results he has achieved since taking over as Joe Montana's successor.

"Usually, when you break the huddle, the tight end is to the right, so you follow him so you know the defensive front," commented Young. "The front tells you a lot about what's going to happen behind it. After you've played a long time there are certain tendencies you can speed through."

The 49ers, under Walsh and now with his disciple, George Seifert, have established and ingrained the plan, first with Montana, now Young.

Both quarterbacks made it look easy, almost as casual as a dart-thrower in the corner saloon. Its effectiveness is incumbent upon intelligence and physical skills. Young and Montana have both, but Young has a stronger arm and also runs with more strength.

After after Super Bowl XXIX, Young was the recipient of a new Buick automobile, which goes to the MVP. He was both candid and humble in his remarks.

"Maybe we played some of the best football that has ever been played," Young exclaimed. "Historically, I don't know where I stand. Roger Staubach said some nice things about me. I've received a lot of fine compliments.

"Sports is about arguing who is the best. There are many things I'd like to accomplish apart from football, such as a foundation for children and the work I do around the Navajo Indians."

Young, born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and raised in Greenwich, Conn., is an agile 33, especially so since he waited in the wings as three-time Super Bowl MVP Montana's understudy since 1987 and, consequently, took a minimum of punishment.

He's difficult for rushers and blitzing linebackers to reach because of his ability to unload the ball so quickly. Trying to get to Young makes them old in a hurry.

It's all in the read and the release. He could handle "War And Peace" in a single sitting.

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