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.