As the Eagles prepare for their third preseason game (Saturday in Jacksonville, 7:30 p.m. kickoff, 6abc), the starters should expect to play about a half to continue its timing and familiarity with the offensive scheme and with each other. The Eagles have offered glimpses in the first two preseason games that suggest that when this thing all comes together ...
Of course, the leader of the band is Michael Vick, who understands full well that the real work is in front of him. Earning the job as the starting quarterback -- which he has done convincingly with 13 completions in 15 attempts in two preseason games -- is one thing. Thriving in the role when the regular season begins is another.
What is this offense going to look like when the Eagles line up to play at the Redskins on September 9? We've been given a taste, and it is a savory one. The Eagles have been as vanilla as possible in the preseason and they have still shown explosiveness (Vick's 47-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson against New England is an example) and they have shown they can run the football (LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk offer depth and variety) and they've shown that they can sustain drives (the offense converted 7 of 8 third downs with Vick and/or Nick Foles at quarterback in the first two games).
The offensive line has played pretty darn well, with the exception of a late first-half sack against Carolina and some rocky moments early in the New England game. This group seems to have the ability to be terrific this season under new coach Jeff Stoutland.
Vick has plenty of options in the passing game, even with the loss of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Jackson has been outstanding in the summer, and Damaris Johnson is an emerging young player. Jason Avant is open every time he goes out for a pass and Riley Cooper has stepped up his production and has been extremely sure handed. The tight end position is loaded with talent and possibilities.
Much has been made about the tempo of the offense, and it is worthy hype. I happen to think that Chip Kelly's imagination is such he can have games in which he revs up the tempo and leaves a defense breathless and also has moments where he slows things down and plays some pound-and-ground with the running game. Kelly knows he has the framework of a fully-versatile offense at his disposal, with the quarterback holding the keys to the ignition.
And so that is where Vick enters the picture. What's been most impressive about Vick in the preseason and in training camp is his clearly visible comfort operating a scheme that was just introduced in the spring. Vick is at ease in the shotgun, or under center, and he's had firm, confident feet in the pocket as well as an air of clarity when he's been asked to roll out and make a decision on whether to throw the football or run with it.
If this is, indeed, an offense designed to take advantage of Vick's abilities and is, as many have said, the "perfect" scheme for Vick, then what must he do to excel for an entire season? Here are some must-do's, from this perspective ...
- Combine patience and aggressiveness: Vick isn't going to complete 85 percent of his passes in the regular season. The game just isn't played that way, no matter how brilliant the scheme may be. Vick is going to have to exercise patience throughout the course of a play and of a game. Defenses are going to look for ways to pressure him, to get him into some moments where he makes bad decisions and costs the offense. So, Vick has to sacrifice a play with a throw-away here, or a safe play there, and live for the next series. How does Vick master the notion of having controlled aggressiveness when he has spent a career in a position where he was called on so often to make the plays himself?
- Obviously, Vick has to stay healthy and on the field and avoid injuries. He can't hold on to the football. He can't dive into piles. He can't try to run through defenders, or split groups of defensive backs. Getting Vick out of the pocket and on the move presents a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense, but it won't work if Vick is unable to keep himself out of harm's way. Is he all of a sudden going to slide? That remains to be seen. We've been through this before with Vick and he has resisted the act. Vick just doesn't slide. Even without sliding, Vick has to keep his body free from excessive hits, pushes, bumps and the bruises that have followed his career. If Vick isn't healthy, he isn't helping this team.
- Trust the system. Vick is in love with the game of football and with Kelly and his coaching staff. A happy Michael Vick is a productive Michael Vick, and his level of energy now is off the charts. But there are going to be bumps in the road, as there are in every season. Vick must trust Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur here. All the way through. To the very end of the season. They don't want to put him in harm's way. And they know that an effective Vick means that he is distributing the football to his teammates and then stepping aside. This offense is not all about Michael Vick. This offense is about the system, one that clearly has the ability to offer "equal-opportunity scoring," as Kelly said when he was introduced as the head coach and asked about his offensive philosophy.
- Stay in the playbook, night and day, every day. This coaching staff is going to push Michael Vick beyond where he was pushed in recent years, and that's a good thing for him. He needs it. The days of relying on his athletic gifts are over. He still has marvelous skills, but Vick's game is only going to be enhanced by a strong mental game. This is not to suggest that Vick slacked off in the last couple of years. It is to suggest that this coaching staff teaches differently, studies differently and runs its practices in its unique manner, and all of those factors are stimulating to Vick's mental game. The early, very excited call here is that the offense has a lot of pieces in place for success. But we know that it is a step-by-step process that requires a tremendous amount of hard work and some good fortune, too. The big news this week is that Michael Vick has been named the starting quarterback. What happens next, though, is the key to determining how much success Vick and the offense will have together.