BETHLEHEM, Pa. He had it all planned out.
Michael Vick decided as soon as last year ended that by 2011, hed have a much deeper grasp of blitz recognition. If he was going to get the Eagles where he wanted, he had to.
So hed spend the offseason working with Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson on recognizing formations and alignments and figuring out where the blitzes were coming from, when they were coming, and how they were coming.
And by opening day, hed be an even more effective, even more dangerous quarterback.
Then the lockout came. And his plan became impossible.
I couldnt study, Vick said. I couldnt pick up where I left off at the end of the year last year. I thought I made strides at the end of the year last year, but youve got to be out on the field and do it and see it.
You can make a film and say, I can do this and I can do that, but until you get out there and be able to rep it its not going to make a difference.
Vick knows. Until he masters the blitz and figures out how to beat it with his arm instead of trying to beat it with his legs, hell never reach his full potential.
And that means the Eagles wont reach their full potential.
Just getting comfortable with what were doing and seeing the field really well, understanding what were trying to do in our protection schemes, just focusing on how to beat the blitz, Vick said. You know, we got blitzed a lot last year, and I just wanted to make sure Im top of it this year so teams cant get to me like they want to.
And thats really what this preseason is all about. Juan Castillos defense will show Vick every blitz imaginable up here at Lehigh and once the Eagles get back to the NovaCare Complex.
On Saturday, the defense focused all morning on the blitz game. Snap after snap, Vick stood tall in the pocket in the face of blitzers and delivered the football.
Under pressure. On target.
He only rarely scrambled. He only rarely took his eyes off his receivers down the field. If last year was about becoming a winning quarterback, this year is about becoming a complete quarterback.
And despite a lost off-season, it looks like hes on his way.
Hes doing great, tight end Brent Celek said. Hes picking up everything. The throws hes having are on point every single time. I cant say enough good things about him. Hes really impressed me. Hes even becoming a bigger leader on this team.
Mike wants to be the best quarterback in the league. Hes just keeping his nose down. Hes grinding, working hard. He wants us to be the best. And you can see it out there. He expects it from the guys, he expects it from himself. When youve got a guy like that at quarterback, youve got a good situation.
When youve got a guy like that I mean, dont get me wrong, were all going to give it our all but when you got a guy like that thats giving it all on every single play, you dont want to let him down.
Vick did what he could during the lockout. He ran, he lifted, he watched film of all his 13 games in 2010. He did everything he was allowed to do.
But without minicamps, without OTAs, without study sessions with his coaches, it was impossible to truly evolve the way he did in 2010.
Really, the only way to learn how to face blitzes is to face blitzes. So now hes trying to squeeze six months of work into six weeks.
Its very challenging, Vick said. Its actually harder than I thought. At the same time were doing a great job of adjusting, our coaches are doing a great job of keeping us in tuned and making sure things arent so fast that were able to understand it.
Fortunately, the areas Vick wants to improve in match up with what the Eagles defense wants to do.
If youre a quarterback who wants to face blitzes in practice, this is the right team to be on.
Its to my benefit to be able to see it every day, to know when its coming, to know the looks, to watch it on film to rep it in the a.m. and the p.m. and it just works out for you, he said.
How far does he still have to go?
Vicks numbers were terrific last year -- his 100.2 passer rating was second-best in franchise history and fourth-best in the NFL.
But as the year went on, teams began attacking Vick more and more. He began turning the ball over more, getting intercepted, fumbling, getting sacked, making mistakes. The Eagles allowed an alarming number of sacks and hits on Vick. The last six weeks of the season, he wasnt quite as efficient or productive as he had been.
The blitzes were to blame.
So for Vick, virtually every minute at Lehigh is devoted to turning the blitz from a chance for the other team to make a big play into a chance for the Eagles to make a big play.
Hes doing an outstanding job, Mornhinweg said. Hes a very bright guy. He picks things up very quickly. Hes got a natural feel of the game. Hell be very, very good against the blitz, and thats part of that last step in his sort of evolution.
He can light it up as a quarterback right now. And then now he takes that extra step and he becomes a surgeon. Thats the next step.
It says a lot about Vick that as brilliant as he was last year he started the Pro Bowl, he finished second to Tom Brady in MVP voting, he went 8-3 in 11 starts theres no sense of complacency. No sense that hes content.
Just a burning desire to become proficient at the one aspect of his game that isnt where he wants it.
Going back to when we first acquired Michael, that was one of his goals, Mornhinweg said. He wanted to play the quarterback position at the highest level he possibly could, and hes really put the hard work and preparation in. He got himself to a really high level. Previous to that he was one the great dynamic players in the game. He wanted to make sure he mixed that great ability and then playing that quarterback position at the highest level, and I think were right on track there.
He can throw it a mile. He can run faster than anybody. Just imagine if he learns to read defenses even more proficiently and start beating those blitzes with quick and correct decisions?
I believe this year hes going to surprise more people with beating the blitz with his arms, and the legs will be his backup against the blitz, Jason Avant said. I believe his arm will get us out of a lot of the blitzes.
He has the athletic ability, the greatest of all-time as far as athleticism. Bar none. And now hes going to go to being a quarterback as far as picking up the blitz and seeing things, hes going to take that to another level. We expect him to go to another level.
The Eagles open the season against the Rams and Falcons two teams with tough, young defenses that play in domes where its very difficult for opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines.
Vick believes hes already dramatically better against blitzes than he was last year. Well know soon.
Last year was probably like 50 percent, he said. Now its like 75 percent. Ive still got a ways to go. Just being able to see and recognize and know when its coming, learning each and every day.
As a quarterback youll never know it all. Im just pleased with where Im at right now, and with the offense that were running, its going to pay dividends.
But when? The preseason begins Thursday, and opening day is only 31 days after that.
Is that enough time in this brief and bizarre offseason?
We have time, Vick said. Ill be ready.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.