Eagles' Vick enjoys his place in spotlight

Eagles starter Michael Vick says a quarterback has to have heart and grit. "If you don't have that attitude, you're not going to be able to strive and get better," he said.
Eagles starter Michael Vick says a quarterback has to have heart and grit. "If you don't have that attitude, you're not going to be able to strive and get better," he said. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 20, 2012

For Michael Vick, the spotlight is always on and never seems to dim.

That's been true since he entered the NFL, and it will be his reality again in 2012. There may not be another quarterback with as much at stake in the coming season. Vick is in his third year as the Eagles starter, and his explosive left arm holds the fortunes of a team talented enough to contend for a title but undermined by mistakes a year ago, including many by their quarterback.

As the Eagles open training camp Sunday and try to make their aggressive roster moves pay off in a second run with a star-studded lineup, their hopes ride on Vick's ability to be brilliant at times while healthy and consistent. His long-term future in Philadelphia - and perhaps his best chance to win a championship - also hangs in the balance now that he has spent two seasons as an Eagles starter with mixed results.

The weight is immense, but it's something teammates and coaches say Vick handles well - because he's used to it.

"At that position, being as great as he's been since high school, he's been under the microscope," said coach Andy Reid, one of Vick's biggest boosters. Add the attention brought by Vick's conviction on dogfighting charges and his improbable return to stardom, and the glare gets even brighter.

"He's wired right for that," Reid said. The spotlight on the field? "He loves it."

Vick said as much himself.

"The best thing for a quarterback is to have pressure on him," Vick said. "It forces you to bring out the best. If you don't have the heart, if you don't have the grit, like Coach Reid tells me all the time, if you don't have that attitude, you're not going to be able to strive and get better."

Reid said Vick has shown his desire to improve this offseason.

"He has been here every day this offseason. He doesn't miss," Reid said during the Eagles' spring practices. "That's a tribute to him. There's a reason why our team has been here with the numbers we've had, and it's because they follow the quarterback."

Since the end of 2010, when the Minnesota Vikings spoiled Vick's comeback season with an array of corner blitzes, teams have pressured the quarterback, challenging him to read and adjust. Coaches have worked with him on improving against the blitz, but the biggest emphasis, according to Reid, has been trying to make Vick accept the idea of living to fight another down when a play comes apart.

"If things aren't going well for the team . . . he's going to try to make that play, whether it's with his feet, with his arm, and there's just a time or a place where you can't force things in there," Reid said.

Vick, he said, has to accept the idea of sometimes chipping away at the defense.

"In this offense, there's enough good things that happen if you just let it work for you," the coach said. "A check-down's OK."

For Vick, the competitive juices that come with playing quarterback also drive his desire to win on every down. This spring, though, he said he understood the importance of minimizing the big negative plays.

"Everybody has their own individual responsibility; I just have to fulfill my role," he said.

For much of his playing career, Vick has had to do it all, carrying Virginia Tech to the national title game as as freshman and later arriving in Atlanta as the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick, soon taking the Falcons to the NFC title game.

That background alone would be enough to draw attention. Add in Vick's prison sentence and a slew of plot twists since then - his return to the NFL in 2009, his resurgence as a starter in 2010, and the national focus on last year's high-profile Eagles team - and there may not be another quarterback who has faced as much scrutiny in recent years as Vick.

Other big-name quarterbacks get star treatment, but most of their roles and reputations are clearly defined. No one debates Tom Brady's future or worth. Vick's is a constant topic of discussion.

After every game and nearly every practice, he stands amid a three-deep huddle of cameras and microphones.

"Him being the No. 1 pick, he saw it from the beginning," tight end Brent Celek said. "Mike's not a jerk, so he's able to deal with it."

"Mike has a rare ability to put all that aside," center Jason Kelce said.

For years he has been known as an electrifying talent whose frustrating mistakes prevented him from taking his teams to the top. Those extremes were manifested in his first two seasons as an Eagles starter - a thrilling 2010 performance was followed by 18 turnovers and a litany of injuries in 2011 - leaving this year to tilt the argument over whether Vick is a changed quarterback who simply needed time to perfect his game or a great athlete with too many flaws to win big.

"Expectations will turn you into Superman, and reality is you're going to make a mistake, and how do you handle that mistake?" Reid said.

Vick, he argued, admits his errors and works to correct them.

Vick now has had his first full offseason with the Eagles as the team's starter, giving him months of time to review tape and adjust. He has an explosive offensive cast around him and a strong, cohesive offensive line. His receivers are happy and healthy. His running back is a bona fide star, and he has built a better connection with his tight end.

There are no excuses if Vick gives up the ball or can't find a way to get through 16 games intact. With a big season, perhaps he will prove that he can do what many said he couldn't. A second consecutive down year, though, would make his burst of excellence in 2010 look like fool's gold. If he confirms the worst fears about his play, the Eagles can get out of Vick's contract with little financial penalty after this season.

Vick, who turned 32 in June and has not won a playoff game since the 2004-2005 season, said he doesn't worry about his future.

"I think my future's brighter than it's ever been. Feeling better, taking care of my body, my arm still feels strong . . . mentally getting better," he said. "Some quarterbacks have their best years in their 30s."

He pointed out, for example, that John Elway won his first championship at age 37.

In doing so, Elway definitively erased all questions about his greatness. Can Vick make a similar legacy-defining run?

He has all the tools, experience, and coaching he could ever want available to him, including the training-camp practices that begin next week.

As usual, everyone will be watching.


Eagles Camp

The Eagles begin their 14th training camp under head coach Andy Reid on Sunday when rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., the Eagles' training-camp home since 1996.

Those players will practice for the first time Monday at 8:45 a.m. The first full-team practices open to fans are July 27 at 8:15 a.m. and 2:35 p.m.

Look for a complete fan's guide to training camp in Sunday's Inquirer.


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.

 

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