Bob Ford: How much has Eagles' Vick changed on the field?

Backup QB Kevin Kolb (4) watches new starter Michael Vick during practice Wednesday. Coach Andy Reid says he believes Vick has learned to become a pocket passer since his NFL return.
Backup QB Kevin Kolb (4) watches new starter Michael Vick during practice Wednesday. Coach Andy Reid says he believes Vick has learned to become a pocket passer since his NFL return.
Posted: September 23, 2010

The questions were about football, but they were also about change, about change and redemption. Michael Vick says he has come a long way, and as he stood at his locker on Wednesday, the newly promoted starting quarterback of the Eagles, it was hard to argue.

"My problems," Vick said, "have been off the field. I don't think they've been on the field."

Yes, the problems. The dogfighting and dog killing that led him to spend 18 months in prison. The hatred and the scorn he brought upon himself with his actions. The loss of his livelihood - which almost happened again this summer when one of his former codefendants was shot at Vick's birthday celebration.

"I think everything that I've been through just made me a stronger individual," Vick said.

The real question, however, as Vick's rebirth comes full circle, is whether the things he endured also made him a better football player. Did the changes he had to go through as a person make him better suited to play quarterback in the NFL under a demanding coach like Andy Reid?

Because Vick is wrong about one thing: Some of his problems were on the field.

When Vick finished the 2006 season, he was 26 years old and had just gone through another scatter-shot year with the Atlanta Falcons.

His completion percentage was low compared with the good quarterbacks in the league and his passer rating of 75.7 ranked him 20th in the league. He had run for more than 1,000 yards, which was exciting, but the Falcons were 7-9 in the regular season and, to be blunt, Vick wasn't really considered a winner. He was thrilling, he was talented, but the finer points of the game - like working from the pocket or limiting interceptions - did not appear to interest him.

Despite having signed a 10-year, $130 million contract with Atlanta at the end of the 2005 season, Vick still had a reputation for coming to work at the last possible moment and for leaving at the earliest. He wasn't in the film room very much and wasn't considered an ardent student of the game. On Sundays, he didn't play quarterback so much as he played Michael Vick.

And that is the quarterback who walked into Leavenworth prison, but not the one, apparently, who signed with the Eagles in August 2009, and certainly not the one who played last weekend against the Detroit Lions. Something has changed, and you wonder if it is Vick or the situation around him.

"One of the questions we had about Michael was - and it has been a question throughout his career - is 'Can he be a pocket passer?' " Andy Reid said. "I think you saw [him] under duress - [he] was able to move, maintain his eyes down the field, and make throws down the field."

Vick has been called many things in his life. "Pocket passer" is not one of them. But Reid thinks Vick has developed that skill, and it is a large part of the reason Vick will be starting ahead of Kevin Kolb on Sunday and will remain the starter until Reid changes his mind again.

"That's great coming from Andy, a guy who knows the quarterback position in and out," Vick said. "The only thing I try to do is impress those guys. I guess that's what it's all about. I like to put smiles on their faces."

Those who support Vick will take the words for what they are. Those who cannot forgive his sins will say he changed because it served his purpose to do so, to get himself back on the field as a starter, to make that next big contract possible.

Whatever the motivation, the man-as-quarterback appears to be different. It could be that a few seconds in the confinement of the pocket are nothing compared with 18 months in the tight quarters of a cell. After the deadening monotony of prison life, a little extra time in the film room or the weight room isn't so bad.

"You can go on moving forward, doing things the right way, and not turn back to the old person you were," Vick said.

The changes he made as a player - if they are real and not just a mish-mash of short samples from six quarters of football - are less important than the changes he might have made as a person, but that isn't why he's the starting quarterback. Becoming the player Reid wanted could be nothing more than expediency for Vick, the straightest line from Point A to Point B, but that won't matter if he wins.

"I've been to the bottom, and I'm just trying to rise like the phoenix," Vick said. "If I can persevere throughout all the bad things I've been through and all of the bad places I've been to, then I think things will be OK."

Both he and Reid used the same analogy this week, comparing his return from prison to the mythical firebird that rose from the ashes of its self-immolation. He should only hope to be so lucky in his search for final redemption. Some scorch marks do not heal.

And if the changes have not been real, particularly on the football field as far as the Eagles are concerned, then Vick could end up like another legendary flier whose waxen wings were not really made for so lofty a mission.

Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or Read

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