We are a little less than four months away from the official start of the NFL season, and yet, here I am, ruminating about another NFL topic, one that seemingly everyone has an opinion on: Michael Vick. Vick is the most intriguing engima in the NFL. Michael Vick is the prodigal talent with the unenviable pressure of having to live up to the impeccable standards that the fans of the NFL have placed before him. No one has ever questioned his talent and almost every superlative has been exhausted, but just as easily as he can make a mind-blowing play, so too can he make a mind-numbing play that will absolutely paralyze and debilitate you as a fan, leaving you searching for an explanation as to why and how he mainpulates your emotions so quickly and unexpectedly often. HIs play can be maddening and masterful at the same time. He is like the drunk uncle who has mostly kicked the habit, but every now and then will rekindle his intimate relationship with his old buddy Jack Daniels. And we fans, as caring relatives wonder when that uncle will be able to finally fulfill his potential and not dissapoint you time and time again. Vick is the same way. It’s like every moment we see a sign of growth, it’s followed by a sign of regression, and we don’t really know which Vick is the true Vick.
Vick supporters will say that what he does is just win, and that’s all that does and should matter. Vick naysayers will point to the fact that he has yet to take his team to the big game and that his passing efficiency is mediocre at best, that he has regressed as a quarterback, and that ultimately, he is overrated. Let’s get down to the nitty grity, the core of the discussion and examine Michael Vick as a quarterback and as a football player. Vick has known only one thing since he has entered the league, and that is winning, it’s what he knows how to do better than almost any other quarterback right now in the NFL. In terms of athletic talent and potential, the sky is the limit for an athlete of his caliber and magnitude. What everyone wonders is when he will get to the apex, the summit of his talent and abilities and harness that with a greater knowledge of the game and truly blow the doors off the competitive balance in the NFC. Before, it was more a question of when that would happen, but after a .500 season, people are now questioning if that will ever happen.
Rather than being patient, everyone seems to have an opinion on Vick and his progress as a QB. People have become overly critical of Michael Vick. He is by far the most scrutinized and criticized player in the NFL, even with his high winning percentage. Everyone seems to lack the patience to give Vick some time to blossom into the player we all know he can become. Give him some time. He has done nothing to provoke anyone to call for his head or for anyone to blatantly bash him. I mean, c’mon, I’ve even heard some crazy people tell me that they would prefer to have backup Matt Schaub starting over Michael Vick…Excuse me? All I have to say to that is, “cocaine is a hell of a drug”. Vick has become defensive as of late (especially last season), telling the media to say only good things about him. He received so much criticism for those comments, but do you blame him for being frustrated? He has been trying to shake the stigma that he is just a running back lining up behind the center since he has come into the league. For him to have held out his thoughts and feelings for this long without saying much is amazing, there is no way that he doesn’t know the negative things that are being said about him. All the talk about being a traditional pocket passer seemed to even get to his head and affect his game last year. There were moments in games where you could see the hesitation of whether to run or pass. Before, he wouldn’t think twice about taking off, but now he seems to be forcing himself to stay in the pocket and make something happen rather than to just take off. He will learn in the future what the right balance is between scrambling out of the pocket and planting himself patiently in the pocket.
We are now in year 3 of Michael Vick in the west coast offense, and it is widely believed that it usually takes about 3+ years to really get a good handle on the west coast offense and that is when you can expect to see a lot of signs of improvement. His best statistical year was his 1st year starting, when he took the Falcons to the playoffs and to the frozen tundra and handed Green Bay it’s first playoff loss ever at Lambeau. At that time, Dan Reeves was the coach and there was no scent of the west coast in that offense. They simply allowed Vick to roam free and gave him the freedom to either makes plays with his arm and/or feet. Rather than restricting him and conforming him to that offense, they let him loose and let him make plays. Whether that is the better way to handle a talent like Vick, I can’t really say, it is still too early to tell, but what I do know, is that it worked then and it probably would work just as well now. Vick was drafted more as an athlete than as a quarterback. Sure, people knew they could mold him into a tremendous quarterback, but everyone also knew he wasn’t polished as a signal caller.
There was a lot of criticism of Michael Vick that he didn’t run the offense efficiently and that they had actually regressed offensively. Wrong. If you take a look at the numbers, the Falcons were actually 9th in the NFC in offense in 2004 and they jumped to 6th in 2005, and their yards per game jumped from 317.8 to 326.6, and that is with Vick running for 305 yards less than his previous year’s total. Their ppg increased from 21.3 to 21.9 from the previous year. And once again, they had the number one ranked rushing offense in the entire NFL. Statistics may lie, but those don’t. Michael Vick may not be able to run his offense as effectively as Peyton Manning, but to say that he doesn’t have a good grasp on the offense and is incapable of running it efficiently would be a huge overstatement. Let’s not forget that Vick does not have the necessary tools around him to complement him as a passer. If it wasn’t for Alge Crumpler, Vick would be absolutely on an island offensively, with no one to throw to and no one to save him from withering away under the heat of the defensive pressure. Vick now has two young receivers (Roddy White and Michael Jenkins) who started to produce at the end of last year and are poised to give Vick the young, fast passing threats that he has always lacked in Atlanta. They have also acquired Wayne Gandy from New Orleans to shore up their offensive line, so Vick doesn’t get pimp slapped around by the pass rush.
With all that being said, Vick does have to improve and needs to improve, especially within the west coast offense. He has to learn to think pass first, then run, even if only for a fraction of a millisecond. There is no doubt that he has to develop better touch on his passes, especially in short yardage situations. He also has to be smart enough to know when and when not to run and when to avoid a hit by either sliding or stepping out of bounds. It sounds somewhat restrictive, but he has to learn to control his explosiveness. Now, Vick has more weapons than he has ever had around him and the defense is the best it has been since he has been the starting quarterback (at least on paper). He will improve this year, but I think it will still take him another year or so to really become the quarterback that everyone has expected him to become since he was drafted No. 1 overall. There is no doubt in my mind that, if healthy, Michael Vick will lead his team to the playoffs this year and the Falcons will be in the upper echelon of the NFC this coming 2006 season. As soon as he erases the memory of last year’s late season collapse, there will be those thousands of people jumping back on the Vick Experience ride, ready to anoint him as the savior of one of the most dissapointing franchises in NFL history.