February 14, 2013
In Week 2 of the NFL season. Michael Vick passed for 371 yards and rushed for a touchdown in the final two minutes to give the Philadelphia Eagles a 24-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
Little did we know. Little did we know that Baltimore would hoist the Super Bowl trophy and Philly would free-fall.
The Eagles' 4-12 demise cost Andy Reid, the league's longest-tenured coach, his job. And presumably, the franchise was going to sever ties with Vick.
Instead, ownership and management decided to restructure Vick's contract and give him one additional year to show his stuff.
And what an intriguing year it will be, especially for those on the Peninsula and in Virginia who know Vick from his days at Ferguson and Warwick high schools, and Virginia Tech.
Is Vick or second-year pro Nick Foles a better quarterback for the rapid-fire offense coach Chip Kelly brings from the University of Oregon? How will Vick mesh with his new position coach, former Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor? Regardless of the starting quarterback, can the Eagles' offensive line keep him upright?
The trend line of Vick's three seasons as Philadelphia's starter is not encouraging.
In 2010, he led the Eagles to the NFC East title and earned a Pro Bowl invitation. Philadelphia was 8-5 in games he started, including a home playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
He's 10-13 as a starter since and was 3-7 in 2012.
Now all that's not on Vick. His offensive line has been a mess, and the relentless pounding he's absorbed has relegated him to the sidelines for extended stretches — six games in 2012 after a concussion.
But Vick often hurt himself, and the team, by failing to protect the ball and forcing passes into coverage. He threw four interceptions in an opening-day victory at Cleveland, and against Baltimore a week later threw two picks and lost a fumble.
"I looked at the film," Kelly said during a news conference transcribed on the Eagles' website. "Just studying the tape, not worried about what the line call was or the protection was or what they were doing. But the velocity on the football, how quick does it get out of his hands?
"And one of the things when you look at Michael is his toughness. That can't be overrated at all at the quarterback spot, is to be able to stand in there and deliver the football. … If somebody misses the block up front, and (a pass rusher) is … running clean, and you don't flinch and you still deliver the ball, or you throw the ball and it hits the receivers in the hand and it's tipped as an interception, that goes down on the quarterback as an interception, but sometimes it's not the quarterback's fault.
"So when I was evaluating the tape and (offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur was evaluating the tape, we were looking at … his skill set. I think he still has a skill set. He can throw the football, he's got a quick release, and obviously, we know he can take off and run when necessary."
Vick told ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" that he needs to play with more of his youthful abandon.
"The thing is you have to be very cautious and meticulous about what you're doing on the field," Vick told them, "but not to a point where it takes away from your game, because once you start trying not to get hurt, that's when you get hurt. I think what I have to do is go out and play lights-out football and not worry about getting hurt.
"I think over the last two years I was trying to protect myself and trying to make sure that I was out on the football field with my teammates, just putting too much effort into not being injured. When you do that, it slows you down just a half a second."
Vick and Lazor, Virginia's coordinator and quarterbacks coach the past three seasons under Mike London, will make a curious couple.
Ivy League educated at Cornell and mentored by coaches such as Dan Reeves and Joe Gibbs, Lazor takes a professorial approach to teaching. Conversely, Vick has often been at his best while improvising.
But Reeves was Vick's first NFL coach, and together they helped the Atlanta Falcons reach the playoffs in 2002. So perhaps Reeves can buffer any Vick-Lazor conflicts.
This much is certain: Kelly's Oregon offense was predicated on speed, fast athletes running a fast-paced, no-huddle attack. And even as his 33rd birthday approaches in June, Vick retains elite speed.
"He is actually younger than Tony Romo and about the same age as Eli Manning," Kelly said of Vick. "So I think there is a lot more to Michael. … I don't know what he's been asked to do in the past, but that's our job as coaches, where he can get the ball out quickly, because we have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball that are going to flourish when we get the ball in their hands. So that's on us as coaches, not on the quarterback."
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