Has Michael Vick finally learned to take a dive?

On the same page: Michael Vick and coach Chip Kelly (right). "I don't want [QBs] taking hits," Kelly said. "I don't want them running people over."
On the same page: Michael Vick and coach Chip Kelly (right). "I don't want [QBs] taking hits," Kelly said. "I don't want them running people over." (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 28, 2013

If Michael Vick put out a record called "I'm Going to Try to Slide," it would inevitably skip.

Here the Eagles quarterback was, on the eve of his 11th season in the NFL, saying yet again that he will attempt to slide whenever he runs.

"I know I've said that before," Vick said Saturday. "But don't be surprised if you see me doing my natural fall, flop, get down. The most important thing is protecting the ball. Someday I'll get it, man."

Protecting the football is important, but so, too, is protecting oneself. And Chip Kelly, who is likely to have some element of the read-option in his offense, wants his quarterbacks to avoid injury above all else.

"They've got to understand the best ability is durability," Kelly said, "and they've got to get up and play the next snap."

Kelly's mantra to his quarterbacks when they run, as it likely is for many coaches, is "Touchdown, first down, get down." So if there is a clear path to the end zone or beyond the first-down marker, then take it. But if "contact is imminent," as Kelly said, then get down.

"I don't want them taking hits," Kelly said. "I don't want them running people over. I also don't want them to hook slide when there's seven, eight more yards they can gain."

Before we get ahead of ourselves, Vick must first win the Eagles' quarterback competition. But even if he doesn't, the read-option - in which the quarterback has the option to run - will be a part of Kelly's offense. The frequency with which it is used will depend on the skills of the quarterback.

"If I called 20 read-options with Nick Foles in the game," Kelly said, "you should fire me."

Anyone who watched Foles run 10 yards unimpeded, seemingly through quicksand, into the end zone against the Buccaneers last December knows that the second-year quarterback has nowhere near Vick's speed.

But the read-option was essential to Kelly's Oregon offense and gave NFL defenses fits last season as the Redskins, 49ers, and Seahawks featured it into their game plans.

"Even if I am [the starter], I feel like we'll still run it," Foles said. "I'm capable of getting five to 10 yards and extending the play even more if the Red Sea parts and I feel comfortable going."

If Vick is the starter, then Kelly will order more of the read-option from the menu (his term for the playbook). But with Vick's aggressive running style and past unwillingness to slide, it's safe to wonder if Kelly will keep him on a tight leash.

Kelly's quarterbacks, even without the read-option, have to conserve their energy because of his up-tempo offense. They ran at Oregon, but not as much as perceived. And when the Ducks quarterbacks did, they avoided contact by getting down or out of bounds.

Last summer, Vick delighted Eagles fans at Lehigh when he took an exaggerated slide early in camp. Washington's Robert Griffin III, who is facing similar criticism about his fearless (some say careless) running style, similarly took a pronounced slide at Redskins camp on Saturday.

Vick made more of an effort to evade hits last season, but the running back within crept back on occasion. Against the Cowboys in November, he scrambled, and as he dove forward he was clocked by Dallas nose tackle Jay Ratliff. Vick suffered a concussion and missed five games.

Vick appears noticeably bigger this season. He said he added four pounds of muscle to combat the hits he expects to take in Kelly's offense. But if the 33-year-old wants to win the job and prolong his career he should be more concerned with the blows he can skirt.

And this is where the argument for Vick has some teeth. Kelly's offense, even if Vick runs as much as he did before, could cut down on the number of times he is exposed. When Kelly's quarterbacks run, they run because of the read-option, not because they take off and scramble, which historically is how Vick has accumulated most of his yards - and injuries.

If there is a pass play that doesn't involve the read-option, then the ball, for the most part, is out quick. If there is a run, it's likely in the read-option. And the quarterback should take off only if there's a gap, and he should take only what the defense gives him.

But with Vick that may be too many ifs. He still has to prove he can get the ball out quicker and get down.

Kelly said that Vick will practice those things. Other coaches have tried drilling them into him. Vick was asked if he had previously been told, "Touchdown, first down, get down."

"I can't recall," he said. "I know our coaches always coached us to think touchdown, keep the chains moving, and not get hurt."

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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