Coming to Terms with Vick as the Eagles’ Starting QB… Again

Coming to Terms with Vick as the Eagles’ Starting QB… Again

There may not be a more outspoken critic of Michael Vick the football player than myself since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2009. It’s got nothing to do with past criminal behavior – he paid his debt to society. In fact, I kind of like the reformed Mike. He strikes me as a thoughtful and dare I say genuine person. I simply don’t think highly of his resume.

People often talk about Vick as if he’s accomplished a lot in the NFL. They often wonder aloud on TV or radio if we’ll ever see “the old Vick” from his Atlanta days, as if that one-read-and-take-off style made him a good player. Sure, the Falcons got a couple trips to the playoffs out of it, and Vick frequently made highlight reels, but he never grew as a quarterback during his six seasons there. People forget he might have been on his last leg in ATL anyway before it abruptly came to an end.

Then Vick joined the Eagles and ascended to franchise quarterback in about one year’s time. He was definitely a different player, actually trying to run an offense for probably the first time in his life. They smoked a few bad teams, and Vick’s flaws went overlooked for a month or two before the most predictable thing ever happened. Right as he was winning over some of his biggest detractors, defenses started catching up with him again.

2010 was not as great as people remember. That’s not to say Vick’s Comeback Player of the Year award wasn’t warranted. There were just so many times the season could have gone wrong earlier than it did. It could have been Week 2 when Detroit was blitzing the hell out of Vick in his first start, but the defense couldn’t capitalize on his mistakes and the Birds snuck out of there with a win. It could have been the night of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, where Vick was about as bad as bad can be for 52 minutes before suddenly becoming Superman.

Eventually his luck did turn though, and glaring imperfections caught up with him much as defenses did. The Vikings embarrassed the Eagles on a Tuesday night in what was a clueless performance by Vick, and two weeks later he was heaving the decisive interception in a first-round playoff game at home. Since then, it’s been nothing but a cocktail of soul-crushing turnovers and devastating injuries.

Hey, don’t take my word for it. The numbers speak for themselves: a 56.3 completion percentage; 177 touchdowns to 121 turnovers (run/pass); a pedestrian 80.6 passer rating; an 8.6 sack percentage, which ranks 153 out of 196 all-time among qualifying players; appeared in 16 games only once; has just two playoff wins. Take those over a 10-year career, and they’re not very good. Kind of makes four trips to the Pro Bowl ring hollow, and if it was any player besides Vick, you’d be wondering how they still have a starting job in the league.

Yet here we are again. Vick will be the Eagles’ starter this season, and just like I had to come to terms with it in 2010, when I knew it ultimately wouldn’t work out, I have to come to terms with it now.

One way it’s different this time around is at least I agree he should be starting. Holding an open competition at the position was the right thing to do, and he won fair and square. It’s not like when Kevin Kolb was groomed to take over, was shuffled in and out of the lineup for two quarters until he got concussed, and then was replaced. (Why did they ever trade Donovan McNabb in the first place if they were going to do that?) Vick legit earned this.

It’s still difficult not to associate No. 7 with failure though. 30 preseason snaps no matter how awesome doesn’t change the fact that for 10 years this has been the type of quarterback who will always choose to freelance rather than play within the offense. He holds on to the ball far too long, gives it to the other team, then goes down with an injury once the season has already spiraled out of control. Why should we believe anything else will happen now?

Maybe you believe he is a fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, which promises to make the most of Vick’s athletic ability, while perhaps also simplifying the decision making. Maybe it’s because he’s in the best shape of his life, or that he was able to rekindle his passion for the game. Maybe a quarterback just can’t fail in Kelly’s system – it’s not like Nick Foles had any trouble moving the offense. Or maybe you along with many others will choose not to believe this story plays out it any manner other than the same as it always has until Vick proves unmistakably otherwise.

I can’t tell anyone how they should feel, because I’m undecided myself. I figured if accuracy and decision making and protecting the football were all virtues, Vick would lose an honest quarterback competition almost anywhere, probably would have a long time ago. But he didn’t, and I saw that with my own eyes. To top it all off, what he managed to showcase in two preseason games was nothing short of tantalizing. It was almost like a movie trailer for a comedy where I know they showed me all of the funny parts, but I kind of still want to see it anyway.

With Vick it’s never been a question of talent, he’s just never been able to play the position the way the NFL demands. Of course, Chip Kelly might be on the verge of bucking a lot of league trends this season, so maybe he can with Vick, too.

There’s no denying Vick has evolved. He’s a leader now, not just in the sense that he was in Atlanta where he was a celebrity and guys looked up to him. He’s an inspirational leader, a dedicated worker and teammate, a locker-room guy, a tone-setter – somebody who demonstrated change is possible both on and off the field. But if he’s going to find success again or ever eclipse the somewhat modest accolades compared to his star, he will have to continue evolving.

If he can do this Chip’s way, Vick has a chance to be the best he’s ever been. Yeah, for the very first time I honestly believe that. And I’ll clutch that belief firmly while I once again prepare for the worst if you don't mind.

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

A day after going 0 for 5 with five strikeouts, Odubel Herrera is leading off for the Phillies in their series opener Friday night against the Reds (see game notes).

It's the first time Herrera is leading off since last Aug. 19, a span of 84 games.

Cesar Hernandez gets the night off, with Andres Blanco batting second and playing second.

Maikel Franco is back in the six-hole after going 1 for 5 with two strikeouts in the cleanup spot Thursday. Tommy Joseph bats fourth and Michael Saunders fifth.

Cameron Rupp, who walked three times in Thursday's win over the Rockies, catches Aaron Nola and bats seventh.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Andres Blanco, 2B
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Aaron Nola, P

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies (16-29) vs. Reds (22-24)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Following their first win in a week, the Phillies open a new series this weekend against a beatable team in the Cincinnati Reds, who are 3-9 in their last 12 games and 1-7 in their last eight road games.

Let's have ourselves a look-see:

1. Nola's turn
Aaron Nola is on the mound tonight for his second start since a month-long DL stint. He was extremely impressive his last time out, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings in Pittsburgh.

Nola's fastball reached as high as 95.5 mph against the Pirates, which is notable because he threw only two pitches faster than 94 mph all of last season. His velocity was up before the lower back strain and it's a great sign that the elbow injury which ended his 2016 season is truly in the past.

In Pittsburgh, Nola (2-1, 3.52) threw 19 of 27 first-pitch strikes. He got 11 outs on the first three pitches of at-bats. 

He's faced the Reds twice in his career and dominated them both times, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings with one walk and 17 strikeouts.

Current Reds have gone 7 fo 39 (.179) against him with just two extra-base hits. Joey Votto is 0 for 5.

2. What to do with Odubel
Pete Mackanin has an interesting decision to make this weekend with slumping Odubel Herrera, who on Thursday became the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in a game.

Herrera is down to .226 on the season with a .275 on-base percentage. In May, he's hit .194 with one walk and 28 strikeouts.

Mackanin could bench Herrera like he did with Maikel Franco for two games earlier this week. It would send a message to the player that poor at-bats and wild swings have consequences. And, quite frankly, sitting Herrera for a day or two might give the Phillies a better chance to win.

The issue, of course, is that there's a thin line between giving a player a chance to clear his head and ridding him of opportunities to get back on track.

Plus, the Phillies don't have great options in replacing Herrera in the lineup. They have a four-man bench at the moment and the only options would be putting Ty Kelly or Brock Stassi in left field and moving Aaron Altherr to center.

(Update: Mackanin is taking the opposite approach with Herrera, leading him off Friday night.)

Herrera just has not been himself this season and it's troubling. At this point last season, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. He's been an undisciplined hitter in 2017 and when you have two of them in the middle of the lineup in Herrera and Franco, it makes things really easy on pitchers at times.

Herrera started the year hot, hitting in his first eight games. Since then, he's hit .203/.239/.324 in 155 plate appearances with six walks and 42 K's.

3. Tommy time
Tommy Joseph has been one of the very best hitters in baseball this month, batting .329/.400/.671 with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.

He's 148 games and 499 plate appearances into his major-league career and has hit .257 with 23 doubles, 28 homers, 69 RBIs and an .804 OPS. That's about 10 points higher than the league average OPS from first basemen over that span.

Had Joseph's April slump continued into May, prospect Rhys Hoskins might have already been called up. But Joseph has done enough so far to hold off Hoskins, who appears to have more upside because of his combination of power and plate selection.

Controlling the strike zone is the next step for Joseph. He has a .311 OBP so far with 33 walks and 112 strikeouts as a Phillie.

But over the last two seasons, he's been one of the few Phils who's taken advantage of this ballpark. Joseph's hit .276 with an .844 OPS at Citizens Bank Park compared to .240 with a .769 OPS on the road.

4. Scouting the Reds
The Phillies face 29-year-old Reds right-hander Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).

You look at the ERA and think, OK, maybe the Phillies' bats will wake up tonight. But keep in mind that the Rockies' four starting pitchers this week entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA and the Phillies scored three runs against them in 27 innings.

There's nothing special about the 6-foot-5 Adleman. He throws his fastball and sinker in the 88 to 91 mph range with a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. His opponents have hit .300 against his fastball and have eight extra-base hits with a .290 batting average against his changeup.

In six starts this season, Adleman's yet to go deeper than six innings. The Phils faced him last season and scored three runs in five innings. Cesar Hernandez went 2 for 2 with a walk and Franco went 1 for 3 with a double.

As for Cincinnati's offense, Votto is obviously the hitter you worry about most. He's hit .299/.422/.591 this season with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 38 RBIs, 35 walks and 24 strikeouts. A typical Votto season.

Shortstop Zack Cozart has been surprisingly hot these first two months, hitting .340 with 20 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 29 strikeouts. It's most surprising to see him walking this much because he never has. He's 15 walks away from matching his career high.

Leftfielder Adam Duvall has killed the Phillies over the last two seasons. He went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a homer in the season-opening series in Cincy and went 8 for 18 with four doubles against them last season.

5. This and that
• Over the last seven games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 22⅔ innings.

• Howie Kendrick started at third base for Lehigh Valley during his rehab assignment Thursday. He was hit by two pitches and removed from the game.  

• Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. He's 8 for 8 in save chances this season with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He's struck out 28 and allowed just one home run in 24⅔ innings. His ability to go multiple innings is what makes him stand out — he's Andrew Miller-like in that regard. Iglesias has pitched more than one inning in 7 of his 19 appearances.