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.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).