Prior to the 2010 NFL season, Michael Vick was a player in transition, trying to get his legs back under him, just a year removed from a 23-month prison sentence. At the end of the season, Vick's name was up there with Tom Brady for MVP honors. Vick posted phenomenal numbers (3,018 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes, nine rushing touchdowns to go along with 676 rushing yards and a passer rating of 100.2) despite starting only 11 games. Those types of numbers aren't easily accomplished by most NFL quarterbacks fortunate enough to start 16 games, let alone 11.
How was Vick able to turn it around? Coming into last season, he was still considered a project. The Eagles' coaching staff worked overtime to turn his career around and it paid off big time. With Donovan McNabb being shipped out of town prior to the season and Kevin Kolb suffering an injury, Vick seized the opportunity to prove his worth not only to his team, but to everyone who doubted him and said that he would never become anything more than a running quarterback.
Vick brought that criticism upon himself by being a lazy player during his Atlanta Falcons days. Two years in jail can humble anyone who once had everything going in and nothing coming out.
What about the 2011 season? With the plethora of offseason moves the Eagles have made, acquiring several big name free agents to bolster their already impressive roster, can Vick lead the heavily favored Eagles deep into the playoffs? The Super Bowl even?
This slideshow will run down what could possibly hold Vick and the Eagles back, and what they can do to warrant their huge offseason.
As a player with such incredible potential, it wasn't until last season that Vick looked the part of an NFL quarterback. In previous seasons, Vick had not shown the patience to go through his progressions when dropping back to pass. If the first option was taken away, Vick almost always took off running. Early in his NFL career, he had much success employing that tactic. However, the NFL is always about progression. Defensive coaches become smarter. NFL defenders are faster, and are able to match Vick's speed in the open field. His reckless style of play always led to him taking unnecessary injuries on the field, but more importantly, stunting his growth as a passer.
His situation in Atlanta didn't help matters, either. Running the West Coast offense when he was unwilling to learn was not the best way for Falcons' coaches to utilize his unique skill set. When he arrived in Philadelphia, humbled from prison and more eager to learn, Vick took huge strides to become the passer he had the potential to become.
Vick posted career highs in completion percentage (62.6 percent), passing yards (3,018) and touchdown passes (21). His previous high in completion percentage was a below average 56.4 percent, set back during the 2004 season.
What was the cause for such radical improvement?
There is no one answer to this question, but Vick's success always started and ended with Vick himself. His work ethic had improved mightily once he joined the Eagles. Being surrounded with better overall talent also contributed to his new-found success, but more importantly, having a better understanding of NFL coverages and schemes. With a coach like Andy Reid, who can make just about any quarterback a Pro Bowler, he was able to unlock a portion of Vick's vast promise.
In order for the Eagle's to continue to be the explosive offense that gave teams fits last season, Vick must continue to work hard and develop as a pocket passer. Even Steve young had to settle down sometime.
Now that Vick has matured as a man as well as a football player, his more humbled demeanor endears him more to his teammates.
In Philadelphia, Vick is the key to their explosive offense. In Atlanta, he was the offense. A lot of that had to do with the fact that he was an awful teammate and didn't trust in his team. Any NFL player will concur that if the team does not believe in its leader, it shows on the field. Vick's Falcon teams were mediocre at best, and he had a large part to do with that. Not taking football seriously and not studying film with the offense put the Falcons in bad spots during Vick's tenure there. If he was unable to lead the team, then they would all collectively underachieve, just like their leader.
In Philadelphia, things are different. The Eagle's are a veteran team with a strong coaching staff that routinely puts their players in the best positions to be successful. Vick wanted to become a better quarterback when he came out of prison. He checked his ego at the door and when the incumbent starters were injured, he embraced a leadership role with the Eagles. His turnaround has paved the way for another talented, yet troubled star, Plaxico Burress. Now firmly entrenched as the leader of the Eagles, Vick must lead by the example he set since dawning the uniform: hard work, hard work, hard work.
One of the many constants regarding any professional sports team, especially good ones, is the tendency to no-show a game or two. Sometimes a bad game against an inferior team opens the door for the critics, media, analysts and fans to rip the team's effort. In the NFL, it would be easy for the Eagles, as talented and deep as they are, to drop a game or two to teams like the 49ers and Rams because they looked ahead on their schedule, licking their chops to play a better team like the Giants.
During the course of a long NFL season, it's easy for a team as good as the Eagles to under perform against a bad team. With Vick being the leader of this franchise, he also carries the task of making sure that his team shows up for every game on the schedule. With the growing number of new faces and egos, Vick has a tough task at hand in terms of keeping the Eagles focused. If there was ever a time for him to make strides not only as a quarterback but also as a leader, this is it.
Last season's jaw-dropping comeback against the division rival New York Giants catapulted the Eagles into the NFL stratosphere. Being down by 24 points in the fourth quarter would have given most teams an excuse to fold, but with Vick at the helm of one of the most explosive scoring teams in the league, the game was far from over.
The Giants had not gotten the memo.
Making big plays with his legs and his arm, Vick willed his team back from a huge deficit on the road to steal the game. Throughout his career, Vick has always made huge plays on the field. Often times, however, his heroics on the field were becoming overshadowed by his recklessness off it.
Despite it all, Vick had always handled adversity well. He never bought too much into the criticisms usually reserved for him and his style of play. It was success he had difficulty handling. Too many times would he follow up a dominant, mind-blowing performance with a no-show the following week. He bought too much into his own hype and it always translated onto the field the following game.
Now that Vick has matured as a player, he knows that opposing coaches are always devising game plans to stop him. At this point in his career, he embraces the challenge because now, he doesn't buy into the hype. Even with the huge game he had against the Washing Redskins, where it seemed that the Eagles couldn't do anything wrong, he found things to take away from his brilliant performance. The mark of a true star player is never being satisfied. In his mind, he could have played even better.
The old adage of running quarterbacks not being championship caliber, that notion couldn't be any truer than in today's NFL. Simply put, the NFL has evolved into a passing league. With the evolution of the passing game comes the evolution of today's quarterbacks. At no other time in league history has there been a finer line between running quarterbacks and quarterbacks that can run.
Aaron Rogers is leaps and bounds behind Michael Vick in terms of sheer athleticism, but he displayed an ability to run with the football when needed. But it was his prowess as a pocket passer that put him over the top, essentially knocking off the Vick-led Eagles en route to their Super Bowl victory.
In order for Vick to take that next step, everything mentioned in the previous slides must be addressed by Vick in order for him to lead the team deeper into the postseason. His sub-par 2-3 record in the playoffs is more or less an aberration of him seemingly hitting a "wall" come playoff time. With a renewed focus and a better supporting cast around him, Vick has a rare opportunity to make this Eagles team something special.
For the first time in his career, Vick has a chance and the tools needed to handle lofty expectations.