Eagles Training Camp Preview Part 3: Can Vick Overcome Time to Win the Super Bowl?

Eagles Training Camp Preview Part 3: Can Vick Overcome Time to Win the Super Bowl?

With rookies and selected veterans set to report to Lehigh University in 12 days, we are gearing up for the 2012 football season by examining the three most difficult questions facing the Eagles. First we asked whether Michael Vick can stay healthy, then if he can cut down on turnovers. Finally, can he become the caliber of quarterback necessary to lead his teammates to the promised land?

When he arrived in Philadelphia three years ago, few people imagined Michael Vick would be in the position he is today. Heck, starting quarterback for the Eagles seemed farfetched, let alone the career year he had in 2010, the lucrative multi-year contract he signed in 2011, leading up the clothing line he released on Wednesday. Seriously.

It's not just the nearly two years he spent behind bars though, which would have been more than enough for anybody to come back from, especially in pro football. Before Vick went away though, his stock had never been lower. In six seasons in Atlanta, Vick never developed beyond a glorified sideshow under center, somebody who could beat defenses with his feet, and occasionally his arm, but never his mind. The Falcons had just missed the playoffs in two straight seasons, and the shine was wearing off.

The unexpected part was Vick actually learned to play a little quarterback when he got here. He spent his first season with the Birds in '09 getting back into playing shape and working on mechanics. By the time he took over for Kevin Kolb, Vick was a completely different player. Still not polished, mind you, but this wasn't the one-read-then-take-off hybrid of old. Suddenly he demonstrated patience in the pocket as he went through his progressions.

And yeah, he could still take it to the house himself, too.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, Vick did not take another step forward last season. He's still better than ever, but that's not necessarily good enough to win it all. Now he's 32, and at a stage of his career where plenty of QBs would have peaked already. Is there still time for Vick to improve to the point where he can be mentioned in the same breath as the elites -- and more importantly, win a championship -- or is it simply too late for any of that?

Vick obviously has the talent join that company, and we've even seen it with our own eyes for stretches. Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young went so far as to describe Vick's six-touchdown performance against the Redskins two seasons ago as "One of the most defining games at quarterback I've ever seen." Vick was 20 for 28 passing with 333 yards and four scores, and added another 80 ticks on the ground while punching two more into the end zone.

But we've witnessed the flip side of the coin as well, and all too often at that. Vick is still very much in the midst of learning his craft, which is a problem at his age, and especially his experience level. He played the game seemingly on instinct alone for so long -- going all the way back to his days at Virginia Tech, in high school, on the playground -- one must wonder if he can ever completely reconcile his style with what the NFL demands of the position: reading defenses, making quick, decisive decisions with the ball, and playing the game under control, just to name a few.

What Vick does have going for him this year is he finally has a full offseason to prepare like a starting quarterback, his first since '06. When he came back into the league, the Eagles mostly kept quarterbacking off of his plate, utilizing him primarily in Wildcat formations. The following season, Kolb was named the starter, taking all the first-team reps after Donovan McNabb was traded. In 2011, with Vick finally the man, a lockout wiped away offseasons programs, leaving only a hectic training camp to ready up.

While nobody wants to use the lockout as an excuse, those OTAs and mini-camps are meaningful, especially to developing players. Quarterbacks have the opportunity to get with coaches, who are installing their schemes for the upcoming season, then go out and test drive the offense. That went missing last year, and the prior season Kolb took the majority of the snaps.

Plus, the coaches really piled on Vick last season when they put him in charge of calling out protections at the line of scrimmage. Ordinarily that falls on the center, but with rookie Jason Kelce awarded the job, the team felt the responsibility was best left to Vick. By all accounts, Kelce is ready to handle more of the load this season, which should allow the quarterback to focus on doing his job -- delivering the football to open receivers.

Finally, this will be year number four in the Eagles' west coast offense for Vick, which is often cited as the length of time it takes a quarterback to truly grasp the system. He's put in the work, and has more than enough experience. This is sink or swim.

Unlike our previous two questions however, there isn't really any research that proves or disproves Vick has what it takes to continue his ascension, and trying to cite examples through NFL history would be futile. There has never been another player like this, whose career has taken a trajectory like Vick's.

We know he can stay healthy, even though we don't know whether or not he will, and we know he can cut back on turnovers based on what he's done during his career. Whether or not you think he can be something greater than what he is now -- a Super Bowl winning quarterback -- that is subjective.

The only thing we know for sure is if the Eagles have any shot at winning it all this year, that's what Vick has to become.

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego — 6.19 — and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games — five losses — and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings (see story). Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We're better than this. I know we're better than this. We've just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it's something we've got to do. Today wasn't too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice groundball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It's hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it's all because we're missing good pitches to hit. We're getting pitches to hit and we're not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We're trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it's tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We're just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."