It was an extraordinary weekend, right up through the 60 Minutes interview in which Michael Vick came off as caring, extremely remorseful and a better man for the experience of spending 18 months in jail and emerging with a chance to turn around his life, and in turn helping many others, in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Vick joined an Eagles team that already had Super Bowl aspirations in the midst of a preseason that offered ups and downs and the usual concern that this time of year brings.
A few days later, the perspective and the anticipation has changed for the better.
From the standpoint of how Vick has fit into the fabric of the team perfectly. The practice tempo remains lively and Vick is up to speed knowing he has so much to learn, so much to absorb. Players are responsive to him, excited to have him as a teammate. Vick has maintained as low a profile as possible in this media-saturated environment and has worked overtime to re-acquaint himself with the game and the nuances that go along with playing the quarterback position.
The extra attention that Vick has attracted from the outside world has not, to this point, taken the focus away from the larger task at hand, and that is to continue on with the process of finding the best 53-man players to make this roster for the 2009 season.
Are the Eagles a better team for acquiring Vick? On paper, in terms of wall-to-wall talent, yes they are. How they use Vick is in the hands of coaches who are visibly excited to have him. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, not one to get overly excitable in his weekly meetings with the media, could hardly contain himself when discussing the possibilities of integrating Vick into the offense.
But Vick is only one piece here. The Eagles have an 80-man roster they are constantly evaluating. Who has made a move up? Who needs to step forward to make a positive impression? Let's take a look at some of the stories surrounding this team, including Vick and his presence here ...
*HOW IS THE INJURY LIST? *
The good news is that the injury list is becoming smaller. There are some day-to-day injuries, namely defensive end Trent Cole (shoulder) and tight end Brent Celek (shoulder) and offensive tackle Jason Peters (quad) and quarterback Kevin Kolb (knee), but all of those players should be ready to go in, well, a matter of days.
Of the serious injuries, the list includes a couple of key players. Offensive guard Todd Herremans has that stress reaction in his left foot and is probably a couple of weeks away from practicing. Offensive tackle Shawn Andrews is the largest concern of the group. He says he is improving and he says he is in a good frame of mind and is looking forward to getting back on the field.
Stacy Andrews has not yet taken part in full-go, 11-on-11 drills. That is his final step toward coming back and playing in a regular season game.
Then there is running back Brian Westbrook, who practiced both Saturday and Sunday and who is closing in. The Eagles haven't said if he will play in a preseason game, but there is no denying that Westbrook looks great on the field. The chances are that if he plays in the preseason, it will be that third game against the Jaguars at Lincoln Financial Field.
WHO IS MOVING UP THE DEPTH CHART?
Eldra Buckley is a most obvious candidate after his terrific game against the Patriots. But there are other candidates, too. Dimitri Patterson played as a starting gunner, an indication that perhaps he is in line to win the fifth cornerback job. He happened to have a very good day of practice on Sunday. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin deserves more reps after some of the big plays he made in the preseason opener. The Eagles are likely to keep using him in the return game to see just where he is at heading into September 13. He is dynamite with the ball in his hands.
Along the offensive line, Winston Justice continues to mature and play well. Many of the reserve offensive linemen stepped up with nice games against New England. The wide receivers had good games, too. Up and down the offense, players had strong performances on a night when the Eagles gained 420 yards.
Defensively, seventh-round draft pick Moises Fokou is drawing praise for his play. He is listed as the second-team SAM linebacker in a bunched group. Will the Eagles keep six or seven linebackers? How does Matt Wilhelm fit into the picture?
Another player who deserves some props on defense is Omar Gaither. He is neck and neck with Akeem Jordan at WILL linebacker and Gaither would love to earn the starting job in the middle. He has had a strong summer.
*WHICH PLAYERS NEED A BOOST? *
It's difficult to single out anybody in particular, but a lot of the "tests" that special teams coordinator Ted Daisher saw on Thursday night didn't go as well as he wanted. Jobs are going to be won and lost here. Veterans like wide receiver Reggie Brown and safety Sean Jones, who aren't used to playing on special teams, have to be stoppers in coverage.
As competitive as the wide receiver group is, everybody there needs to keep pressing on. The group contributed so much on Thursday and would have had an even bigger game had a couple of early passes been completed. This is an outstanding situation for the Eagles. With kids like Maclin and Brandon Gibson pressing, the Eagles have unprecedented depth.
*ANY EDGES IN CROWDED ROSTER BATTLES? *
Lorenzo Booker and Eldra Buckley are still tight for the third halfback spot. Kyle Eckel is still trying to make it as a hybrid halfback/fullback/special teams player. Joe Mays is the starter at middle linebacker and he is making good progress. Quintin Demps is the leader at free safety. Jones, by the way, played strong safety in the game on Thursday, so maybe the idea of Demps vs. Jones isn't a realistic dual. Could be more like Demps vs. Rashad Baker vs. Macho Harris.
At cornerback, Jack Ikegwuonu and Trae Williams are competing with Patterson. Good battles there. Jason Babin may have an advantage over Bryan Smith at defensive end. Smith has to get on the field after suffering a concussion in Thursday's game. Babin showed some pop against the Patriots, but must do it on a consistent basis.
It is hard to make much sense of the situation along the offensive line. There are so many good linemen there. The Eagles are going to keep nine of them, maybe 10. A good player or two won't make it and will likely land with another team.
At quarterback, with Vick in, the Eagles actually had five dressed at one point in practice on Sunday. Kolb is still iffy for Thursday after his limited participation in practice. Once he is able to go, Adam DiMichele will not be around. In the meantime, A.J. Feeley is having a great summer and hopes to hang around. But will the Eagles keep four quarterbacks?
*WHAT IS THE PLAN WITH VICK? *
Clearly, the Eagles are approaching this project with patience. Vick is playing quarterback in practice and running with the third team. He gets a rep or two with the starters here and there, and that's fine. He looks great, in shape, clearly enjoying this new lease on life in the winning environment. At some point, the Eagles will look into other ways to get Vick on the field, be that in a "Wildcat" formation or in a way where he lines up somewhere else in the formation.
What can Vick do on the field? A better question is what can't he do. Vick runs and throws and well as anyone in the league. He is certainly athletic enough to line up as a running back at times, and he is probably able to catch a screen pass and make something great happen.
All of that game planning and experimenting is coming, no doubt. For now, the Eagles are teaching Vick the offense as a quarterback. To get him on the field quickly, the best bet is to keep an open mind and take advantage of his versatility. Andy Reid and Mornhinweg are no doubt talking behind the scenes about what they can do with Vick.
As for Vick's media presence, there is none. And there is nothing scheduled for the immediate future. Vick is not likely to meet the media again until just before, or just after, he is scheduled to play again.
**WHAT HAPPENS IN THE DAYS BEFORE COLTS GAME?
The coaches want to see a much better performance than they did last week. They want fewer penalties, better execution and more precision all around. The offense left too many points on the field. The defense didn't make enough big plays. The special teams were chaotic at times.
In Game No. 2, the Eagles could very well split the playing time as they did against New England. They want a better start and a stronger finish. In the days between now and Thursday, the practices will focus more on X's and O's than on full contact and tackling. It is more important to see how the players react in the game than to see somebody get hurt tackling on the practice field.
The defense has a great challenge with Peyton Manning and his weapons gearing up. And the offense has a smaller, quick defense against which to work in the hostile environment on the road. Special teams? Same thing. Make big plays and plug the leaks that hurt the team against New England.