I snapped this of Michael Vick Wednesday at Eagles practice at Lehigh U in Bethlehem, Pa.
NOTE: The good stories were flying at me on Wednesday at Eagles camp, the fourth stop on my nine-day, seven-team NFL camps tour. (Thursday: Redskins) Here are those stories, with photos I snapped….
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — As with every other NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles’ success hinges largely on the play of their quarterback.
Theirs is Michael Vick. Lucky them, right?
Well that wasn’t always the case in 2011.
Now out of the world’s doghouse, as it were, Vick is a rare talent who combines an incredible passing arm with supreme speed and athleticism.
When commissioner Roger Goodell allowed Vick to return to the league in 2009 after his infamous 19-month imprisonment for running a dogfighting ring, the Eagles signed him as a backup.
Before his prison term, from 2001-06 with the Falcons in Atlanta, Vick was viewed as the game’s ultimate dual-threat quarterback — one who got by on his athleticism, not his mastery of the intricacies and subtleties of expert quarterback play.
In his first full season as starter with the Eagles in 2010, he had a QB rating of 100.2, completing 63% of his passes for 21 TDs and only six interceptions.
But last year, after signing a $100-million contract extension, he regressed, and the Eagles flopped to an 8-8 record. Vick’s QB rating plummeted to 84.9, and his TD/INT ratio was an abysmal 18/14.
Vick put those suppositions to rest on Wednesday.
After the Eagles’ hard-hitting afternoon practice in full pads at Lehigh University, Vick told me that the difference between last year and this year regarding his familiarity with and command of the Eagles offence, and his teammates’ familiarity with each other in it, is “night and day.”
“Last year, I really couldn’t come out and run the offence like I did today,” the 32-year-old told me. “I could run the offence, yeah, but as far as protection-wise and making calls in the pass-pro game to pick up the blitz, last year was tough because it was all new language, it was all new for everybody. But now we got it.”
Later asked by another reporter to quantify the change, Vick said, “Last year I would say by this time I was about 25 or 30% comfortable, where now I’m about 90%.”
And as his head coach Andy Reid told me earlier in the day, cutting down on turnovers is paramount if the 2012 Eagles are going to return to the playoffs.
“If it’s not there down the field, then sometimes you can’t force it,” Vick said.
“I tried to force a couple of balls (Wednesday) in 7-on-7s, and that’s kind of the time to do it. (That’s) not to make any excuses. I threw a couple of interceptions today. But I’ll learn from it, and that’s what’s most important.”
One thing he’s doing to improve himself is study old action footage of San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, a dual-threat star in the early ’90s.
“(I’m) just trying to not necessarily pattern myself after him, because I can’t do what Steve did — this is a different day and a different time,” Vick said.
“But he made himself so great, and I’ve got to do the same thing for myself as far as managing the game, poise, and making good decisions.”
Michael Vick, game-manager? That certainly hasn’t been high on his list of attributes. But he said he’s thankful that God has now surrounded him with people who were able to show him the light in this regard.
And he’s right to embrace this crucial aspect of helmsmanship at the NFL level.
Vick said the biggest difference we’ll see from him in 2012 is this very thing.
“The ability to manage the game,” he said. “Whether we’re in no-huddle, whether we’re in two-minute, whether I’m getting blitzed, and just being poised and making good decisions, I think, is going to be a difference-maker.
“This season I expect to be more poised.”
Earlier Wednesday, Reid explained what he expects this year from Vick.
“He just needs to play — to play within the offence and go, and put his own little personality on it,” Reid said. “And then there’s a time when you can slide or get out of bounds and live to play another play. But just execute the offence.
“And he does that very well. I just want him to be him.”
A more mature him, it sure appears.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The Dream Team was a nightmare. Maybe The Dynasty will fare better.
The Philadelphia Eagles began last season full of bravado, amid great expectations.
Then backup QB Vince Young infamously tempted fate with this pre-season assessment that head coach and head of football operations, Andy Reid, had amassed a “Dream Team.”
The rude wakeup calls came early, then often. The Eagles started out 1-4, lost dual-threat quarterback Michael Vick for three games with a ribs injury, and finished 8-8 — out of the playoffs.
Vick pulled a page out of Young’s book last week and made another prediction that probably has Eagles fans wincing:
“I think we have a chance to develop a dynasty.”
Well, first things first. And that starts with taking better care of the ball.
The Eagles didn’t stink last year. Often far from it. But they turned the ball over more times (25) than any other team in the NFC. That’ll do it.
“Turnovers are the key — giveaway/takeaway,” Reid told me after Wednesday morning’s training-camp walk-through at Lehigh University, some 60 miles north of Philly.
“We’ve got to do a better job there — red zone in particular. But, yes, turnovers in general.”
Otherwise, the 2011 Eagles actually had a proficient season.
For example, Vick led a dangerous Eagles offence, which rang up more first downs (356) than every other NFC team except the Saints. And only the 49ers and Seahawks in the conference allowed fewer points (328).
Most years, moving the ball that successfully and preventing other teams from scoring to that extent gets you into the playoffs. The Eagles just couldn’t stop giving away the ball, and one of the main focuses this year is rectifying that.
“We should do better — we should do a lot better job,” Reid said.
Vince Young was actually correct last summer, on base observation. There is indeed a ton of talent here.
Last year’s big-name acquisitions included cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie — who now anchor the Eagles secondary — and defensive end Jason Babin.
This year’s additions plug holes or add to the Eagles’ depth, including first-round draft pick Fletcher Cox at defensive tackle, former Buffalo Bill Demetress Bell at left offensive tackle (acquired after starter Jason Peters went down in March with a serious Achilles injury) and veteran safety O.J. Atogwe, a Windsor, Ont., native (right).
Of course, Vick has two of the NFL’s most dangerous playmakers at running back and wide receiver, in LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, respectively.
So Reid, of course, prefers to talk about the offensive line. It had two rookies last year, one of whom was Kelowna, B.C., native Danny Watkins.
“It helps to have your offensive line back together,” Reid said. “That’s where you REALLY want the stability.”
“Danny went through a little spell there early where he kind of took a step back to take a step forward — and he did take that step forward,” Reid said.
“When he came back in, he played very well for us. And it looks like he’s taking another step up this year, so he looks good out here.”
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles’ “wide-nine” defence returns a deep, aggressive line full of playmakers.
The squad hit aggressively in full pads Wednesday, and the depth on the DL was evident.
DE Darryl Tapp told reporters afterward that Reid is running a “tough camp” and players are responding.
“He has been working us, but you have to get ready for the season.”
The Eagles hope it won’t be another nightmare season. Dream season? Dynasty? Better left unsaid.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Mat McBriar (above) can now kick for the Philadelphia Eagles thanks to a stop earlier this week in Ottawa.
A native of Australia, the punter signed with the Eagles last week, but he needed to renew his work visa after the Dallas Cowboys let him go earlier this year.
So, he flew to Ottawa on Sunday.
“I had an early Monday morning meeting at the U.S. Consulate,” McBriar told QMI Agency following Wednesday afternoon’s training-camp practice at Lehigh University.
“It went well. They processed my visa yesterday, and it was back to Philly last night.”
“It was one of the closer Canadian cities that had a U.S. Consulate,” said McBriar, 33, in his thick Aussie accent.
“I walked around the Parliament a little bit. It was pretty neat. I didn’t go in the (Rideau) Canal, but I definitely saw that as well. But, yeah, I read up on some Queen Jubilee stuff. It was good.”
McBriar will now battle incumbent Chas Henry for the starting punter’s job, and already on Wednesday McBriar took the first snaps in short-punt drills.
McBriar had surgery in Februray to correct a lingering nerve problem in his left plant leg. He said he’s now 90% healed. Until he’s fully healed he is wearing a protective brace.