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Young's presence to push Fitz to play like a No. 1;

It's too early to say what the Bills should expect from Vince Young. But the very least they can ask of their new backup quarterback is that he not come in and declare this a "Dream Team."

Young made such a pronouncement last summer after joining the Eagles. He was so moved by the assembly of big-name talent around him that he more or less promised a Super Bowl to the fans of Philadelphia.

The Eagles, as you recall, fell miserably short of the dream. They were an overpaid, underachieving mess that had to win its last four games to reach .500. Young was wretched off the bench and Philly let him walk. They signed Trent Edwards, which should tell you something.

No one is attaching any lofty labels to the Bills. But the Young signing is a reminder that the bar has been raised for this team in Year Three of the Buddy Nix-Chan Gailey administration.

Nix has invested heavily in the defense, most notably with the $100 million contract lavished on pass rusher Mario Williams. The Bills had what many observers judged to be another solid draft.

Expectations are soaring. The time for excuses is over. No longer will four or six wins be perceived as progress. People expect the Bills to have a winning season and to contend for their first playoff berth in 13 years.

The pressure is on everyone to start measuring up, and it begins with the starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Nix made it clear that Young will compete for the No. 2 job, not the starter's. For now, they merely want him to be better than Tyler Thigpen. It was an affirmation of the faith they demonstrated when they gave Fitz that $59 million contract extension last fall.

I'm not sure Young is even good enough to beat out Thigpen at this point. People who watched him last season said his play was even worse than his numbers (60.8 QB rating, 4 TDs, 9 interceptions).

But we're not talking about some obscure, marginally gifted backup. Young, who is 6-foot-5, 233 pounds, was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft in 2006. That's the same year Mario Williams went No. 1. Reggie Bush, anyone?

Young is a two-time Pro Bowler, a player whose legend and raw physical skills are far greater than his actual ability to quarterback an NFL team. But he's the kind of talent who can mesmerize coaches and fans, a quarterback controversy in the making.

This is Fitzpatrick's team, his offense. He showed in the first seven games last season that he can be a highly productive NFL quarterback. Over a 16-game stretch of 2010-11, he threw 32 TD passes.

Gailey surely doesn't want a quarterback controversy. The head coach and Fitz have developed a strong bond over the past two seasons. Fitz is an extension of Gailey's offensive vision, a respected leader in the locker room.

I can't imagine Gailey has any interest in starting over with a quarterback of Young's dubious skills as a passer and leader. Young once threw his equipment into the stands after being pulled from a game.

After being booed off the field in Tennessee's home opener in 2008, he disappeared for a day, amid rumors that he had contemplated suicide.

Young turns 29 on Friday. Presumably, the Bills did a thorough review and determined that he's matured and won't be a distraction, that he'll be content with a backup role. The Bills have good leadership among their veterans. This could be a good refuge for Young as he tries to salvage his career.

He was brought here as a security blanket, not a savior.

So if there's a quarterback controversy, it will be a bad thing for the Bills. It will mean that Fitzpatrick has failed to keep up with heightened expectations. It will mean he's holding back a team that is upgrading at other positions and venturing into new competitive territory.

It will be OK if Fitzpatrick is average by the standards of a starting NFL quarterback -- which is how he's being paid. But if he performs like an overpaid backup, as he did after fracturing a rib against Washington, it'll get ugly in a hurry.

Fitzpatrick's critics will be clamoring for Young if he can't make the big throws. You can't blame them. Fitzpatrick's arm strength and accuracy continue to be issues. When he struggles, he will always be the seventh-round guy out of Harvard. No one wants to hear about his wideouts or his cracked rib.

This will be the second time Fitz has gone into training camp as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback. He was 28 last year when he first attained that distinction. His career statistics and Young's are pretty similar.

Young's supporters will point to one major difference: Young is 31-19 as an NFL starter. Fitzpatrick is 17-31-1. Young gets credit for winning games when his passing numbers were poor. But you can't dismiss his record. It's the same argument people used for Doug Flutie, who was 37-28 as an NFL starter.

Fitzpatrick needs to outperform his career stats and he needs to win. Maybe there's a little message in the Young signing. You're our man. Now show it.

Don't open the door for the new guy. Your critics are right there with him, ready to break it down.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com