As the Eagles put the finishing touches on their preparation for Monday night's regular season opener against the Washington Redskins (ESPN, 7:10 p.m. kickoff), Michael Vick is again in the center of a defense's crosshairs. It is because of Vick that defenses configure their schemes to try to contain his multiple skills, which include one of the greatest spins of the football the game has ever seen, great speed and burst as a runner, and the ability to keep a play alive with his movement in and out of the pocket.
Vick won the starting quarterback job over Nick Foles and, to a degree, Matt Barkley based on the way he assimilated into the Chip Kelly Offense and took what he learned on the practice field and in the classroom and then translated that into his play on the field. It was a well-deserved starting assignment, and the preseason provided a tantalizing taste of the powers of the up-tempo, spread-the-field offense the Eagles plan to use.
The big question, looming larger than all others for the Eagles is this: Can Vick reign in some of the tendencies that have dotted an otherwise highlights-film career? Can he throw the ball away, out of harm's way, in the face of an oncoming pass rush, rather than try to play the role of a hero and make the impossible play? Can Vick sacrifice three yards and instead hit the ground and protect his body and live for another play? Can he play error-free football long enough to give the young, and new, Eagles a chance to get the 2013 season started the way Kelly envisions?
"All I know is that I've never been more excited to start a season and to see what we can become," he says. "I've worked extremely hard to get myself in this position. I'm very happy to be here. But there is so much work to do, and we have to make sure we pay attention to detail to play the kind of game we are capable of playing. I'm not getting ahead of myself at all. Washington's defense is outstanding. We have to be ready for anything."
The Redskins are likely to go after Vick and try to take him out of his comfort zone. No way they want Vick to sit back in the pocket and allow his receivers, spread all over the field, to come free for big plays. Washington wants to take away the Eagles' running game and then attack Vick and force him to make poor decisions, and turn the ball over, and do the things that have severely hindered the Eagles and the offense for the last couple of seasons.
In a lot of ways, Vick has to be as restrained, and at the same time aggressive, as he's ever been. Kelly talks about the dangers of coaching the players to be "passive," suggesting that such an approach leads to mistakes. He's right. But at the same time, a player like Vick has to play the game in an intelligent manner and take what the defense gives him. If an opening isn't there, play it safe.
"Turnovers just have to stop. It's a mindset that everyone has to have," said Vick. "We just can't keep leaving points and big plays out on the field."
It's going to be fascinating to see. Is Vick's marriage to Kelly and this offense the "perfect fit" that launches Vick into a long-term period of success here? Has he found the scheme that best highlights his unique skills? Can Vick play under control enough to minimize turnovers, and aggressively enough to shred defenses with his arm and legs? Can he stay healthy after years of battling various bumps and bruises?
This is Vick's 12th NFL season. He's as secure as he could possibly hope to be for the present, but the future is very much uncertain. What becomes of Michael Vick? Everyone is watching as he attempts to re-invent his game with the guidance of brilliant offensive coaches and a scheme that everyone in the league is talking about.