Let's talk about Michael Vick and his future. Some people wonder if Vick peaked in 2010, since we had never seen him play at that level before. Believe it or not, Vick can still get better. He's never had a full offseason as the primary quarterback for the Eagles. That can benefit him a great deal.
Assuming there is a resolution to the Collective Bargaining Agreement situation prior to June, Vick will get a lot of crucial work this summer. The Eagles do a good job with mini-camps and passing camps. Andy Reid and his staff know how to run a practice. This is the time of year when Vick stands to gain the most ground.
During the season, the coaches have to focus their time on individual games. They are consumed with gameplans and making sure the players are prepared schematically. There simply isn't a lot of time to work on technique and fundamentals. The spring and summer is when those issues get the most attention. Vick got plenty of coaching last offseason, but the coaches still had to focus on Kevin Kolb since he was the starter. This year will be different.
Vick will get the bulk of the attention this offseason. He will be the player that the coaches have repeat things over and over until they are satisfied. They will drill into his head the importance of every little detail there is. They'll come up with drills to get him to hold the ball higher when he moves in the pocket. They'll work on his footwork. They'll make sure that Vick understands every little nuance there is to playing quarterback in the Eagles system.
While Vick did have an amazing season in 2010, there is still plenty of room for improvement. I think his biggest area to work on is pre-snap reads. The average play only lasts a few seconds. You don't have time to do everything after the snap. A good quarterback will make use of the time prior to the snap. He needs to look over the defense and read whether that group is blitzing or covering. The quarterback must identify where the safeties are lining up and try to read whether he's facing man or zone coverage.
Think back to the Vikings game. After the first few series, Vick should have been scanning the defense for Antoine Winfield as his first pre-snap read. It was clear that Winfield was the key defender in that game. Vick never seemed to do this and Winfield was disruptive for much of the game.
At Virginia Tech and with the Falcons, Vick took the snap and then reacted to the defense. He was so naturally gifted that he got away with this and had success. Those were offenses built around running the ball and Vick making plays with his legs. The Eagles offense is worlds different. The attack is built on the passing game. Pre-snap reads are hugely important. With stud receivers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, you always want to be ready for those plays where the defense rolls the dice with man coverage. If Vick can read this before the snap, it will enable him to find the right target instantly and concentrate on making a good throw. That can lead to a big play or even a touchdown. A second or even half a second can make a lot of difference with an explosive receiver like Jackson.
One of the other keys to Vick improving this summer is developing better chemistry with his receivers. There were two plays in the Vikings game where Jackson was open for touchdowns, but he and Vick couldn't connect. Hitting a receiver 40 yards downfield isn't easy. The receiver and quarterback have to be on the same page. If not, you've just got a long incompletion.
Last summer, Vick was the backup quarterback. The receiver he seemed to develop good chemistry with was Riley Cooper. They connected in practice day after day. That didn't help much once the regular season began. Cooper caught only seven passes during the year, and not all of them from Vick. This time around Vick will be feeding the ball to Jackson, Maclin, Jason Avant and Brent Celek in practice. Those are the primary receiving threats and the guys we want Vick to work well with.
What we're talking about is Vick and his receivers knowing each others' habits, mindsets and preferences. In the scramble drill under Randall Cunningham, receivers were taught to go deep. With Donovan McNabb, receivers knew he wasn't likely to run. They needed to get open in the intermediate area near the sideline. Vick was more of a runner in 2010. This summer, the receivers need to figure out what Vick likes his guys to do on broken plays. Vick also needs to learn about his receivers. How does each guy run the slant route? He needs to figure out where each guy likes the ball to be thrown. He needs to work on timing with fade routes (outside of the red zone).
One place that precise timing should help is the red zone. Throwing the ball in a compressed space is tough. Precision is required. Vick must be on time and on target in the red zone, an area of the field that has been a sore spot for the Eagles in recent years. Improved chemistry between Vick and his pass catchers can only help. He and Maclin seemed to connect well down there last season. They need to build on that and get better.
Vick needs to cut down on the amount of sacks he takes going forward. He didn't have great blocking to be sure, but Vick also held the ball too long more than a few times. The coaches could easily put together a hit tape of every sack. Vick could then study what happened. He'll see that on some plays he's simply not getting the ball out quickly enough.
This ties back in to pre-snap reads. The quarterback must process a lot of information in a very short amount of time. He can't take the snap and react to the defense. He's got to have an idea where he's going with the ball before it ever touches his hands. Vick did a good job of making his reads and finding an open target. Now he just needs to do that quicker.
Vick made phenomenal strides from 2009 to 2010. As long as he stays focused and listens to his coaches, the sky is the limit for him. If Vick will pay the price at home, in the classroom and on the practice field, it is scary to think how good he can be.