Michael Vick trying to hold off wave of Eagles youth

Michael Vick took a significant pay cut to compete for the starting QB job with the Eagles. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
Michael Vick took a significant pay cut to compete for the starting QB job with the Eagles. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 25, 2013

Somehow, when no one was looking, Michael Vick became an elder statesman on this Eagles team.

Eight players have been in the organization longer, but as a quarterback, Vick is more visible than most. He has outlasted Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb and Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. He finds himself, at age 33, trying to hold off another wave of challengers for his job while learning a very different offensive system run by a very different head coach.

Interesting times.

Vick created some ripples last month when he said he'd prefer if coach Chip Kelly named a starting quarterback before training camp opened. Now, with training camp opening, Vick smoothed the waters. He is here, he said, to help the Eagles win "by any means necessary."

Funny, using Malcolm X's radical phrase to declare yourself an obedient soldier.

Kelly accomplished an interesting thing here. He has made Vick into something he's never really been before: one of the guys. Through high school, college, and his first NFL incarnation in Atlanta, Vick was the rock star.

After his fall from grace, his prison term, and his return to the league in 2009, he was one of the most scrutinized athletes in the world. When he flashed greatness in 2010, he was rewarded with another massive contract.

That contract would have paid Vick about $16 million this year, including a $3 million roster bonus in March. Instead, he accepted what is essentially a one-year deal that maxes out at about half of that, including bonuses.

"I came back to play for Coach Kelly," Vick said. "That was it. I heard a lot about him, I watched Oregon throughout the years. I felt like this was the best opportunity for me. I chose it regardless of what fate may be. I'm still going to compete and still be the best quarterback I can be."

Kelly reiterated his plan to have open competition at every position.

"Our depth chart is written in sand," he joked. By including the quarterback position, he is sending a message to everyone else on the team. No one is safe, nothing is set. By Sept. 9, when the Eagles open the regular season in Washington, someone will have established a hold on the QB spot.

It really isn't that complicated. Kelly has never seen Vick or Nick Foles or Matt Barkley run a single one of his plays while wearing pads and facing a live rush. While a quarterback controversy makes for good conversation, Vick summed up the weight of all those words.

"None of the talk is going to determine who is going to be the quarterback," he said.

It will be based on performance. Vick lost the job to Foles last year for two reasons: because he was injured yet again and because the short-timing Reid had nothing to lose by letting the kid play.

Vick added muscle in the offseason in an effort to avoid that first circumstance.

"I'm trying to put my body in the best position possible to withstand the hits," Vick said. "Everybody says I'm injury-prone. I'm trying to fight that."

The best way to fight it, and to avoid injury, would be to modify his game - getting rid of the ball instead of extending plays, sliding instead of absorbing punishment. For the last couple of years, Vick has talked about those things but has been unable to do them. Injuries and turnovers were the results.

Now it's probably too late. His singular advantage over the other candidates is his mobility. Kelly's style of offense would likely expose Vick to more contact at a time when he would be better served enduring less. Winning the job means emphasizing the parts of his game he's been asked to change.

Pretty tricky.

Vick, Foles, and even Barkley have declared their intention to win the job. It should make for a very interesting summer, with two mid-round draft picks pitted against the former No. 1 overall pick, a man who has signed two separate nine-figure contracts and who has been as exalted and as despised as any player in the league.

Michael Vick, elder statesman in a young man's game.

"I feel like I've got a lot left in my tank," Vick said.

Maybe so, but Kelly has the only fuel gauge that matters.

Click here for complete coverage of Eagles training camp.

Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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