Rich Hofmann: Vick & Eagles' offense evolving together

Michael Vick and Jason Avant (left) celebrate Vick's touchdown run in third quarter.
Michael Vick and Jason Avant (left) celebrate Vick's touchdown run in third quarter.
Posted: September 27, 2010

JACKSONVILLE - We are nowhere close to having an answer about this Michael Vick business, and knowing whether Andy Reid made the right decision in naming him as the Eagles' starting quarterback. So let's make a deal. We will answer the macro questions when it is possible to answer them; that is, when the Eagles have made the playoffs or haven't made them with Vick at quarterback.

Between now and then, though, maybe we all should just realize what a hell of a story this is.

And to begin with this premise: that the Michael Vick revolution is actually more of an evolution instead.

Because that is exactly what we have seen, from the first days of training camp at Lehigh to yesterday's 28-3 win over the terrible Jacksonville Jaguars. Vick has not burst onto the scene or into our consciousness. That isn't him, not anymore. You don't watch him and say "wow" as much as you did in the old days. Instead, you watch him and nod your head in recognition and approval.

It is a subtle difference, but not really. Consider: There was a time in Vick's life when his legs defined him. But, this season, he has reached a point in his professional development where his teammates have now taken it upon themselves to tell him that it is OK for him to stray from the pocket and use his legs as a weapon.

"We just told him to be him, man," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who now has caught four touchdown passes from Vick in 10 quarters of play, including two yesterday.

"Part of him is moving in and out of the pocket. That's not a bad thing. He doesn't have to be a pocket passer. He has tremendous speed - use everything you have to become the best player.

"We just kind of told him at halftime, 'If you want to slide left of the pocket, run out of the pocket a little bit and make a throw downfield, good.' It's as simple as that. You don't have to stay in the pocket. [Running] is a part of his game - the ability to keep plays alive and scramble around a little bit."

After the game, Reid made the same point at his press conference. He said, "He's not a statue back there and we don't want him to be a statue back there." He talked about Vick being able to bring his own "flair" to the position, and that the Eagles are in favor of that "flair."

About 45 minutes after the game, Reid was in a great mood, not surprisingly, joking at one point with wide receiver DeSean Jackson that he was hoping he saved a place on one of his calves for a Reid tattoo. But the coach was looking to speak to Vick, and a few minutes later, his new starting quarterback went into Reid's small dressing room and shut the door behind him.

Their fates are bound together now, these two. What was said in the office was between them. A big game is upon them, though; this just in. Donovan McNabb is coming back to Philadelphia. The circus will be in town all week. That this one means a lot to the people who decided to trade away McNabb goes without saying. No pressure, though, Mike.

But they have done things to make it easier for him. After nearly getting him killed the previous week in Detroit, the Eagles did a better job protecting Vick yesterday. Part of that was leaving in more people to block. Again, an evolution - a few more blockers, here and there. After the game, Reid said they do it all the time, and they do, but it seemed a bit more frequent against the Jaguars. On the touchdown to Maclin late in the second quarter, they did a max protect scheme, with only two receivers out in patterns.

The result: Vick was able to sit for a loooong time and wait for Maclin to run his route into the back of the end zone, drive the defender toward the inside, and then skirt the sideline and come back for the ball.

"As a receiver, you never want to take your eyes off of him for a second," Maclin said.

They're all learning, adapting - to Vick's lefthandedness, to his speed, to his ability to duck the pass rush and keep plays alive. Again, there are much stiffer challenges ahead on the schedule than the mighty Jaguars, and there are no real answers, not yet.

The team is all in, though. There is no question there.

"When you win, I think everybody's on board," said wide receiver Jason Avant, one of the team's quiet leaders. "[Vick's professional rehabilitation] means a lot. It's a constant source of motivation for guys to realize that he's been through a lot.

"It's just a light to our team. To see how he has responded, it means so much to us. We're just excited for him."

But in the here and now, an interesting story grows more interesting by the day.

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