Vick still earning his wings with Eagles

Posted: August 15, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Michael Vick walked off the practice field with a child in a DeSean Jackson jersey who carried his helmet. Autograph seekers serenaded Vick with cheers. Eagles fans throughout the Lehigh University practice fields wore Vick's No. 7 jersey.

Vick is the franchise quarterback and team leader, a sharp contrast to his status exactly three years ago.

On Aug. 13, 2009, the Eagles opened the preseason against the New England Patriots in a game that became secondary to news that shocked Philadelphia and the NFL. The team had signed Vick less than three months after the former Atlanta quarterback had completed an 18-month prison term for a felony dogfighting conviction. And on that day, Vick never envisioned his time in Philadelphia becoming what it is now.

"I thought it would just be a one-year deal and I'd go off and venture off and see what happened," Vick said. "I'm glad I was able to prove [myself] and show these coaches that I had a decent level of skill and could play within our offense, and I felt honored."

Vick said he felt at home in Philadelphia during his first week, but he spoke more about the bond he felt in the city than his place on the football team. In fact, Vick said he would have rather been in a different position instead of working as the Eagles' No. 3 quarterback. He accepted the role because he needed "to grow up" and was thankful for the opportunity with the Eagles. It also provided time to rehabilitate his image, although a faction of people cannot accept Vick because of his past transgressions.

"I appreciate people's conversation, I appreciate the things they have to say, and that's more encouraging for me to try to stay on the right path, and I will continue to do the right things."

Yet Vick's image was altered as much by his excellence on the field as his efforts to remain a model citizen off it. When Vick replaced Kevin Kolb in 2010 and spent two months playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL, his popularity soared.

Since then, the conversation about the quarterback has changed. The team rewarded him with a $100 million contract last August, and he followed it with an injury-plagued season in which the Eagles failed to reach the playoffs. With the ability to cleanly get out of the contract after this season, the Eagles must determine whether the 32-year-old Vick can stay healthy and perform at an elite level.

Vick's initial displeasure with being the No. 3 quarterback also represented the depth the Eagles had at the position at the time. Donovan McNabb was entrenched as a Pro Bowl quarterback. Kolb was billed as the starter-in-waiting. Vick's presence seemed only to crowd the quarterback group.

The Eagles' top three quarterbacks now are Vick, who has played in 16 games just once since entering the NFL, and two backups (Mike Kafka and Nick Foles) who have never started an NFL game. Trent Edwards, the No. 4 quarterback, has significant starting experience but was not even on a roster last season.

If Vick were to suffer an injury, the reins likely would be turned over to Kafka or Foles. Kafka understands the system, and Foles offers considerable raw talent, but neither would necessarily inject the Eagles with optimism or instill an opposing defense with fear.

"Nobody has a crystal ball," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "I can't tell you what I'm going to think two weeks from now. But I'm happy with both of their play in training camp to date. We have an awful lot of hard work left."

Vick vouched for Kafka, who has been with the Eagles the last two seasons and currently is limited because of a broken left hand. Vick said Kafka must accept the responsibility and prove that he's a "valuable backup." Vick also called Foles an "exceptional talent" with "a big-time arm." But Vick also understands that to have the season that will satisfy Eagles fans, he must keep the other quarterbacks off the field.

"I plan on being out there 16 games," Vick said. "I've just got to stop banging my hand on helmets and all that miscellaneous stuff."

Vick said Monday included one of his best practices yet, and he joked that the three-year anniversary of the signing was the reason for the crisp afternoon. The fans who lined up for autographs treated Vick like the franchise quarterback he is paid to be. It is not the role envisioned for Vick three years earlier - or even the role that Vick envisioned for himself in Philadelphia - but he awaits an autumn in which he can validate his worth.

"I appreciate playing in the city of Philadelphia and the support of the city and what it represents," he said. "I'm thankful for the second chance, and just want to make it all right."


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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