Rich Hofmann: Reid knows Vick key to not starting 1-4 again

Posted: February 01, 2012

IF THIS THING is to get turned around by Andy Reid in his 14th season as the Eagles' head coach, the answers lay in the ashes of the first five games of his 13th season. It sounds as if that has been the focus of Reid's last month.

Steve Spagnuolo? No Steve Spagnuolo? Yeah, there was that, too. It makes for interesting conversation, and it made for an interesting press conference yesterday as Reid acknowledged he offered the former St. Louis Rams coach a position on his defensive staff earlier this month but then wouldn't say what position he offered. It was fun watching Reid dance.

We will never know how this might have functioned. But it is pretty obvious that Reid believes defensive coordinator Juan Castillo grew in the job last year. If he didn't, the entirely credible Todd Bowles would have been hired this week as defensive coordinator and not as secondary coach. There is too much to lose here, for Reid and his entire staff, to worry about hurt feelings.

So, Reid danced. But entertainment aside, the real business of this offseason for the Eagles is figuring out a way not to duplicate the start of the 2011 season, when the team went 1-4 and completely shut down on both sides of the ball in a series of incomprehensible fourth quarters.

"You take the first five games and you better analyze those babies right there, because that was not a good picture," Reid said, adding that the task was to determine "what happened there, and try to be real.

"So you start with yourself, your presentation, your training camp, your presentation to the players, were you trying to do too much offensively or defensively? So you have to go through and analyze that and try to come up with an answer."

The answer was in the questions Reid laid out, it would seem. They were not allowed to hit in training camp in the way that Reid's teams had hit in the past, and they faded at the end of games. They did try to do too much, especially on defense, especially considering how many changes there were on that side of the ball and how there were no offseason camps because of the labor lockout.

You go back and look at the defense - how bad it was against the run in that first month, and how the lineup of linebackers and safeties changed week after week after week, and how lost cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was - and you really did see them grow out of a lot of the problems as the season wore on. They still aren't good enough, but there was improvement and the early problems were understandable enough.

It is the other side of the ball that is tougher to fathom - because Reid made the calculation, quite reasonably, that the offense would carry the team early.

"I think the best thing I could tell you on that is I knew there were a lot of moving parts on defense," Reid said. "I understood that. I thought it would take some time. How much time, you don't know that, but you felt like it would take some time to get everybody working and pulling the rope in the same direction. On the offensive side, really everybody was coming back. We did have a new line coach [Howard Mudd] and a new scheme there, but it wasn't that dramatic, so I anticipated the offense carrying the defense, allowing the defense to grow. That didn't happen."

It was the turnovers, and it was quarterback Michael Vick again getting banged around too much and suffering a concussion in Week 2 at Atlanta, yet still playing in Week 3 against the Giants and getting hurt again. Vick staying healthy and hanging on to the ball is the absolute key to 2012. That is the lesson of those first 5 weeks of 2011.

"I think he understands," Reid said, when asked if Vick knows how crucial the turnover business is. "Not that every one of them was Michael Vick's, but there were too many."

And the getting hit part? Can he ever learn?

"I think Michael will tell you this: You look at the last four teams that are playing in the playoffs, and all four quarterbacks didn't miss a start," Reid said. "So he's aware of that and he understands how important he is to this football team when he's healthy. And that means as healthy as you can be, playing this sport. So you limit your contact points that he had. And I think that he was able to see that this year.

"Now, does that mean that he's never going to run the ball again? No. I would tell you that I'm sure he's going to run the ball. But when you do that, is there a time to get out of bounds and a time to get down? Absolutely, so that you live to play the next play."

But can Reid communicate that message and get Vick to listen? And can he adjust to preparing a football team that isn't allowed to hit much in training camp? And can the defense build on the best parts of the second half of last year? And can Reid get this football team off to a quick start in 2012?

The last one is a crucial question. Because left unspoken is this surmise: that another slow start next year would be accompanied by an avalanche of speculation about Reid's job, even worse than in 2011, and that the avalanche might just suffocate everyone.

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