Eagles' Kelly forced Vick to raise his game

Posted: August 22, 2013

FUN FACT: When Chip Kelly reorganized the Eagles' locker room early this past offseason, breaking up the traditional setup in which each position grouping occupied a set of stalls, Kelly placed Michael Vick next to Jason Kelce. The starting quarterback with the starting center, a natural pairing.

Nick Foles? On the other side of the room, between the door to the shower room and defensive lineman Antonio Dixon, who might or might not make the team.

When Kelly yesterday announced Vick as his No. 1 quarterback for the season, he confirmed what seemed most likely from the moment Vick signed a 1-year contract to stay here in February. Sure, Kelly wanted to see how Vick adapted to his offense, wanted to scrutinize his decision-making in a few preseason games, but any other result was going to be an upset.

Was all the hand-wringing and counting of practice snaps and theorizing about styles and rhythms pointless? Maybe. But more likely, this was an exercise Kelly undertook to make sure he ended up with the best, sharpest, most focused Vick, to lead his team Sept. 9 at Washington and thereafter.

"It's gratifying to know that I had to come back and work for everything, and it wasn't given to me," Vick said after Tuesday's practice. "I'm proud that I got the best out of myself when I needed it."

Asked about parallels with 2010, when Kevin Kolb's concussion gave Vick what he thought might be his last, best chance to be an NFL starting quarterback, Vick said: "You're at your best when your best is required . . . Sometimes you need to be motivated, you need to be pushed.

"There were times when I questioned the situation, but I just felt like there was a greater purpose, and that purpose was to get the most out of me . . . That's why I stand before you humbled, because I was able to find something within my game and within my character and my personality that I haven't felt in a long time, and that means a lot. I thank coach Kelly for that."

As Vick made plain, after last Thursday's preseason victory over Carolina and again yesterday, Kelly inherited a more or less "broken" Vick, a Vick who acknowledged last week he'd read and heard all the criticism that rained down during last season's 4-12 disaster.

Vick last week credited Kelly with rekindling his love for the game, which seemed an odd thing for a 10-year veteran NFL starting quarterback to say. Asked about that, Vick said yesterday:

"I never fell out of love with the game of football," Vick said. "Sometimes, as a human being, I won't say I lost confidence, because I never lose confidence, but I felt a sense of guilt for a lot of things that took place. I guess I allowed my emotions to get the best of me at times, throughout the last couple of years . . . I feel like there was always something I could have done better."

Kelly could have come in patting Vick on the back and puffing him up, or he could have come in telling Vick he had to prove he deserved his job. Kelly went with the second option, and so far, the results are obvious: Vick, normally a desultory preseason QB, is 13-for-15 for 199 yards in two games.

"I think Mike knows he's no longer in the beginning part of his career," Kelce said yesterday. "You start realizing you've only got so many left."

Running back LeSean McCoy said: "That competition, with Mike and Nick, I think it kind of drove him to chase perfection, every chance he got."

Kelly told reporters that when he gave Vick the news in a meeting with his quarterbacks yesterday morning, Vick vowed to continue as if the competition hadn't ended. Vick said something similar in his news conference.

"It would be a shame if I let up now," he said. "It would be selfish . . . If anything, I'm going to continue to work harder. I'm going here, do about five or six hundred situps, five or six hundred pushups, and I'm going to jump on that treadmill and I'm going to run 'til I can't run no more."

After a day of OTA work in June, Vick blurted out that having to split the first-team reps was a bother, and that he hoped Kelly would announce a decision before training camp . Vick's motivations were scrutinized endlessly. Was he going to lead a rebellion against the new coach? Was he thinking Foles might be ahead - a popular media notion at the time - and laying the groundwork for asking to be traded?

"I just wanted to know," Vick said yesterday. "Everything doesn't happen when you want it to happen, at your discretion. I can't allow my feelings or my emotions or what I feel should be right to interfere with coach's plans. I should've never come out and said that. I was just having a moment. But I appreciate having to put in the hard work, having all summer to think about what type of mindset I had to come back with. Preparing throughout the summer as if I was fighting for a job. And I was. There's nothing better than that."

Kelly called his process "a thorough evaluation." He said he "felt like we had a good amount of tape, a good amount of us seeing them on the field, and seeing them in a lot of different situations, and we wanted to put a guy in place, if we could, in enough time to get us prepared for the season."

After the Carolina game, Kelly faced a roomful of reporters who kept asking how in the world Vick could lose the competition, at that point.

"We didn't want to let this linger, but I think it also expressed itself on the field," Kelly said yesterday.

"The one thing we all learned from this group is that I think we've got two guys, and maybe even three guys that can play in this league. It was a healthy competition . . . I think they both made each other better," Kelly said. "I was really happy with how those guys handled the situation, 'cuz it can at times get testy - it's one guy competing against another."

Kelly said Foles' response to the news was "outstanding." Vick predicted Foles will be a long-term NFL starter.

Asked what Kelly told him yesterday, Foles said: "He thought we both played well. He thought I played really well and that we both had grown as players. But he had to make a decision and wanted to go with Mike, and I respect that.

"But he said you never know what's going to happen . . . You always have to prepare yourself as the starter . . . Mike and I had a great battle. He did a great job and is going to continue to do a great job. And I'm going to do anything I can to help him."

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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