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A Leap Forward: Vick As A Quarterback

Amid the stories of Michael Vick and his off-the-football-field life, something very real is unfolding: He is becoming a real quarterback. Not an athlete playing quarterback in an unrefined manner. Vick has been sensational in training camp, leading to the obvious question of how much of a role he will have in this offense on a week-to-week basis.

The improvement from day one of the rookies and selected veterans camp to now has been, in a word, startling. Vick struggled in a big, big way on the Tuesday that opened camp, and then by Sunday he was zinging bull's-eye-passes with a quick release and that trademark strong arm. When the Eagles called for Vick to escape the pocket with a bootleg or a roll out, he was blindingly fast.

This is an Extreme Quarterback Makeover for Vick. Once upon a time he was an athlete playing quarterback and doing it so well for the Atlanta Falcons. Now he is making the journey to become a complete quarterback.

"I feel like it's coming back. I feel natural out there. I feel comfortable in the pocket, I know my reads and when you know what you're doing it makes the game easier," said Vick after Sunday's practices. "I'm out there reacting. Every day, I'm getting better and better."

Vick had a reason to be rusty on the first day of practice. He had not thrown a pass, literally, since the day of his birthday party in Virginia Beach and, well, you know that story. There was a shooting after Vick left the party and from that time, he stayed at his house in Philadelphia and laid low, waiting for the word on his future.

Not once did Vick throw a football.

"That first practice, that first pass, was the first pass I threw since the OTA's in June," said Vick. "I pretty much stayed home and studied my playbook. I had no receivers to throw to and I was concerned about that coming into camp. I think that I'm getting pretty close to where I want to be and I thank the coaches here for working with me. They've been great. They are great coaches and they are teaching me the passing game like I've never been taught. I'm accepting it. I'm detailing my work. I know that now. I have to want to get better. I have to want to push myself to improve, and I see the difference now.

"This is my first training camp in three years and I love every minute of it. The fans have been great. Being with my teammates is great. I just feel like everything is falling into place with me."

You wonder how much of a role Vick will have. He is Kevin Kolb's backup at quarterback and the expectation is that Vick will have some packages set up for him each week. How much will be determined later. Each week is different.

Certainly, though, the Eagles have a valuable weapon in Vick and they are going to use him.

"I don't know what the role is going to be. I just know that when I have the opportunity to get on the field I'm going to help this football team," said Vick. "That's the only thing that matters. We have one goal, and that is to win the Super Bowl. I'm here to help, in whatever they want me."

Kolb has accepted Vick, and so there will be no problem using Vick for however many plays the coaches feel he can be effective. The two have a great relationship, a common goal, and they know what kind of offense this can be if everyone is on the same page.

You will hear no complaints whatsoever about Vick from Kolb.

"When you look in our offensive meeting room, you go, 'OK, that guy is talented, and that guy is talented and that guy is talented' and you look at Vick and you go, 'Man, I want him on the field.' He's a talented guy, so wherever we can fit him in and get him out there to make a play, I'm fine with that," said Kolb.

For just about all of Vick's time here, the critics have wondered why in the world the Eagles want to keep him. Why put up with all of the distractions? Well, the Eagles are focusing on Vick's skills and what he brings to the offense. And while his contributions last year were maybe not what the team hoped he would provide -- Vick actually seemed to be in a groove until suffering a quadriceps injury against San Francisco -- you have to remember that Vick hadn't played in two seasons and he had substantial rust to knock off.

Now, anybody who watched Vick then and who sees him today notices a gigantic difference. And the mind races toward the regular season and how Vick fits in.

"People around me say my speed is there and that I'm faster than last year and I do feel quicker, but it's hard for me to judge that," said Vick. "I always want to move faster. Even in Atlanta I would look at the film and have trouble judging my speed. I just know that I feel totally different than I did last season. I'm comfortable in the playbook, in the offense. I have my timing down with the receivers and that has helped me a lot.

"We'll see what the season brings. Every day is a new one for me, being here, so I just try to go out there and work hard and improve."

The three quarterbacks on the roster are focal points, of course. On Sunday, Kolb had some fine moments, but also missed on chances in the morning to get the ball down the field to Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, throwing passes that we just centimeters too long. Rookie Mike Kafka led the third-team offense down the field on a pretty drive in a move-the-ball segment. He looks very, very good in the offense.

And then there is Vick, an X-factor for the offense. I know everyone has circled his social life and made that the conversation piece. Don't forget about his football skills and what he means for the team. He is going to be a valuable asset and remind everyone that the elite athletes -- and the athletes who work hard to hone their skills at their respective positions -- rise to the top again and again.

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