The easy part is done.
Now it gets interesting.
Chip Kelly ended what little suspense was remaining and named Michael Vick his starting quarterback for the season on Tuesday.
Vick had clearly played better than Nick Foles through two preseason games and made the new Eagles coach’s decision a rather simple one. But an ever-important question remains: Which Vick will we see this season?
Will it be the 2011-12 Vick, the one that seemingly lost his way after he scaled the mountain in 2010 and earned a multi-million contract the following August? Will it be the 2010 version, the Vick that wowed the NFL world for approximately 10 games and suggested a bright future with the Eagles?
Or will it be Vick 3.0, a new-age quarterback that finally found a coach in Kelly that can get him to maximize his considerable talents?
Let’s take a closer look at several areas of Vick’s game and evaluate how he’s performed thus far under Kelly and how it may translate into the season:
Vick has never been especially accurate. He completed a career-best 62.6 percent of his passes in 2010, but dropped below 60 pct in 2011 (59.8) and 2012 (58.1). Kelly has said that “repetitive accuracy” is one of the most important traits a quarterback must have in his offense. Vick has completed 87.8 pct. (13 of 15) of his throws through two preseason games. The passes weren’t just of the dink-and-dunk variety. He threw downfield on several occasions and tossed a perfectly-thrown 47-yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson in the opener. Kelly’s offense, with it abundance of bubble screens and short passes, will help almost any quarterback. Foles hit on 78.6 pct. of his throws in the preseason.
But Vick has had pinpoint control. Kelly’s up-tempo offense takes a lot the guesswork out of playing the position, and that in turn has aided Vick’s accuracy.
Vick may have turned 33 in June, but his physical skills don’t appear to be waning. He’s certainly not the 21-year-old that came into the NFL full of vigor. But his arm is still explosive. There was one throw during a scrimmage with the Patriots I’m not sure many quarterbacks could have completed. Jackson was running a crossing route and Vick had little time – and room – to throw as a Patriot blitzed into the backfield. But Vick just flicked his wrist and tossed a sidearm bullet to his receiver for about a 20-yard gain. Foles couldn’t make that throw in his dreams. To be fair, not many could. But it just highlighted how much stronger Vick’s arm was than Foles. Not that we didn’t have other examples. Foles didn’t attempt a deep ball in both preseason games. Kelly said he was just taking what the defense was giving him, and that may be true, but Foles seemed content to just sit back and check down. Foles struggled with his deep-to-intermediate passes last season and there were times when he wasn’t accurate in that area in camp.
Kelly’s offense doesn’t require a quarterback that needs to throw a barrage of 20-yard outs, let alone a steady diet of bombs. But it helps to have a quarterback that can stretch the defense when the offense slows down and a more pro-style scheme is needed.
Vick has never been the greatest decision maker. Even in 2010, he relied too often on his legs. But he became worse, it seemed, when Andy Reid loaded his plate with more pre-snap responsibilities in terms of calling out blocking protections. Kelly doesn’t need his quarterback to worry about his offensive linemen’s assignments. Vick’s primary job, especially in the up-tempo, will be to locate the safeties and add up the numbers in the box. I’ve gone over this basic premise before, but if there are only five defenders in the box, Vick should hand the ball off. If there are six, and the read option is the call, then he needs to read the unblocked defender and choose whether to hand it off or run himself. If there are seven or more in the box then he should throw, typically, a quick-hitting pass.
That’s where Kelly’s preference for a quick decision-maker comes in handy. Foles looked a little better in that regard in the preseason, but Vick handled his responsibilities just fine. The greater test will come when defensive coordinators mix up their looks and blitz more often. Vick will have his struggles, but the less time that Kelly requires his quarterbacks to stand in the pocket before unloading the ball will assist him.
Vick added bulk in the offseason under the assumption that he would need it in Kelly’s offense. But he’s only run twice in two games. Kelly’s offense should keep Vick from unnecessary scrambling. But he will have to run on occasion, whether in the read option or when he’s gone through all his progressions. Vick can obviously still move. He didn’t look quite fast last season. I recall when Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington ran him down from behind. But he looks like he has his legs back – at least before the season starts.
The main concern with Vick is the contact he takes when he runs. He still carries the football like a running back – hunched forward, looking to take on would-be tacklers. He took two hits on both his rushes this preseason. He did not slide either time, although he said a few weeks ago (again) that he would try to slide this season. It’s not going to happen. But he can at least fall to the turf and duck out of bounds when need be.
Vick suffered a concussion last season that sidelined him for five games. It’s hard to figure out if he could have returned earlier or if the Eagles just wanted to see more of Foles. Still, it was his second concussion in two seasons.
If the locker room was choosing, Vick would have been named the starter long ago. Jackson came out once and said that he expected Vick to win, and a few other times subtlety suggested that Vick was his guy. He wasn’t the only one. Several players on offense were willing to say privately that they preferred Vick. It doesn’t come as a surprise. Many of those players have been in the trenches with Vick for the last three years. Many grew up idolizing him.
Vick also took a leadership role after video surfaced of Riley Cooper using a racial slur. He was among the first Eagles to voice his support for the wide receiver and wisely took a forgiving stance considering he once took advantage of a second chance.
Vick isn’t a vocal leader. The players do tend to rally around him, though. He can come off as having too much confidence, which in the past seemed to get him in trouble at times in games. Winning this competition could have Vick falling back into some familiar patterns. Kelly did say that Vick said, after hearing the decision Tuesday morning that he would continue to perform as if he was still in a competition.
That’s a smart move. It seems to have brought the best out in Vick, as it did over three years ago.