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.

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

One would think that Temple’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, completions and total offense might not want to change much.

Think again.

Entering his senior season, Owls quarterback Phillip Walker is embracing plenty of changes, starting with his own name.

“It was a maturity thing for me,” Walker said last week during the team’s annual media day of the decision to ditch the nickname P.J. for his given name Phillip. “The older I get, the less I wanted to be called P.J. 

“It’s just something that I wanted to do. I didn’t mind being called P.J. or anything like that, but I feel like the more I get older and older and the more I’m about to get into the real world of being done with football in a year or whatever or at the next level or anything, I’d rather be called Phillip than P.J.”

While the name switch may take a while for Walker’s teammates to get used to, it shouldn’t be an issue for Matt Rhule. Temple’s head coach has routinely referred to Walker as Phillip over the years … when he was upset with the QB’s performance on the field.

“He told me, ‘Coach, you can keep calling me P.J. but I’m going to try to go by Phillip to everybody moving forward,’” Rhule explained. “I call him Phillip. When I get angry, I call him Phillip a lot. I call him P.J. probably on the practice field. There was a tweet I said I’ll call you Phillip if you call me Matt. I called Coach Paterno Joe. That’s what we did at Penn State, so he tweeted Matt and I are getting ready for a great year.

“I’ll call him Phillip. I’ll call him Walker. I’ll call him P.J. I’ll call him a lot of other things.”

The Owls are most proud of the fact that they can call Walker a leader. The quarterback has made great strides during his time on North Broad Street, both on the field and in the locker room.

No one knows just how far Walker has come more than starting running back Jahad Thomas. The two, who attended Elizabeth High School in New Jersey together and won a state sectional championship in 2012, are close friends and roommates.

“Unbelievable. I’m really at a loss for words on that question because where we’re from not too many guys get that opportunity,” Thomas said of his trek from high school to college with Walker. “To see friends and someone that’s like a brother to me just go through the journey that I’ve been through – the losing seasons, the ups and downs throughout our careers and our lives, the different paths that we took to get here – for us to just have that type of bond and to have another four years coming into college, playing here and winning that [American Athletic Conference East Division] championship, it’s just greatness. 

“Somebody like that you really cherish just outside of the field, not only for what they can do on the field but for who he is and what type of role he plays in my life. I’ve been excited for him since high school, since we started playing together, his freshman year playing, getting to start versus Louisville. Just seeing him blossom after that, man, it kind of brings tears to my eyes.”

The advancement in Walker’s maturation is exactly what TU is hoping for, but the quarterback isn’t about to pretend he is a finished product by any means.

Walker (5-11, 205) was able to throw for a career-high 2,973 yards with 19 touchdowns and cut his interceptions to eight — down from 15 — in 2015. However, his completion percentage was 56.8, a number he wants to bump up to 65.0 percent this season.

Getting Walker, who trails Henry Burris by only 121 yards and 72 attempts for No. 1 on Temple’s all-time list, to check the ball down when necessary is something quarterbacks coach and new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas has stressed during the summer.

“I’ve gotten better at [checking the ball down] throughout the past couple days of camp,” Walker said. “It’s just something that Coach Thomas preaches every single day — completions, completions, winning plays. Just going up there with a purpose at the line of scrimmage, knowing what’s going on, knowing when to make checks, knowing when to change the plays and things like that, just having a purpose and knowing what to do on the field.”

Those decisions to check the ball down instead of forcing the big play are what TU hopes can take Walker to a new level on the field. And, frankly, the team will need it to have any chance of repeating last season’s historic success.

The Owls lost defensive back Tavon Young, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Tyler Matakevich to the NFL draft. Those are three key pieces to a fearsome 2015 unit that helped lead the team to its second 10-win season and fifth bowl game appearance in program history.

That means the 2016 squad will flip its focus from having a powerful defense to being a force on offense, as Walker looks to become the first Temple quarterback ever to lead his team to two bowl games.

He’ll do so with one more change: a new number. Walker ditched his No. 11 and will play his senior season in a single-digit jersey, given out by the staff to the Owls’ toughest players. Walker will don No. 8, previously worn by stalwart LB Matakevich.

From the heart and soul on defense to his counterpart on offense.

“He’s the key. Phillip’s the key to us being a dominant offense,” Rhule said. “We’ve been really good on defense for a while. We’ve never really been a dominant offense. It’s not just his play. It’s him demanding that guys do things right all the time. There’s always been guys on defense who have demanded that we play at a certain standard every rep, every play of practice. What you’re seeing right now is you’re seeing guys like Phillip and like Jahad demanding that from the offense.”

“I put a lot of pressure on myself every day just to be out there to be the best player on the football field, be as good as I know can be each and every day,” Walker said. “I know if I’m at my best then guys around me will be at their best.”

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

NEW YORK -- Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes again has soreness in his right quadriceps and was held out of the lineup for Sunday afternoon's game against Philadelphia.

Cespedes originally suffered the injury on July 8 after chasing Daniel Murphy's RBI double to deep center field in the Mets' 3-1 loss to Washington. He went 1 for 2 with a mammoth home run in the Mets' 12-1 rout of Philadelphia on Saturday. He walked and scored in the seventh inning but was pinch-hit for in his second at-bat in the inning, as New York sent 11 men to the plate. He leads the team with a .295 average and is among the National League leaders in home runs (26).

Second baseman Neil Walker is also out of the lineup with a stiff back. Walker returned to the lineup on Friday after being away from the team for three days following the birth of his daughter, Nora, on Aug. 23.

Orioles: Tommy Hunter signed; McFarland, Borbon cut
NEW YORK-- The Baltimore Orioles have signed right-hander Tommy Hunter, bringing him back for a sixth straight season.

The Orioles announced the move before Sunday's game against the New York Yankees. They also recalled righty Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated lefty T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

Hunter was 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 21 games for Cleveland this season. He was in the minors rehabbing a recent back injury when the Indians cut him on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Hunter played for Baltimore from 2011-15, going 21-20 with a 4.22 ERA. He said he was thrilled to rejoin the Orioles, adding there were "a lot of smiles, a lot of hugs" when he walked into the clubhouse.

Manager Buck Showalter said Hunter brought a lot of experience, having spent so much time in the AL East.

"Felt fortunate to add him at this time of year," Showalter said.

Drake has pitched four games for Baltimore this year, giving up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

McFarland was 2-2 with a 6.93 ERA in 16 games. Borbon went 4 for 13 in six games.

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.