BETHLEHEM - Paroled a day early from what was already the easiest training camp in modern franchise history, and maybe ever, the Eagles fled Lehigh yesterday with an unfamiliar quickness in their steps. That happens, though, when your body is not encased in ice, when two-a-days become one-a-days and one-a-days become none-a-days, as they have in the NFL's brave new world.
Tomorrow night, the Pittsburgh Steelers await in another exhibition test. Questions do not get answered at this time of year, not really, because the speed and the intensity in the real games are so much more than in the fake ones. The answers come later. For now, the task is to make sure the questions do not multiply.
In that, the Eagles so far have succeeded. But the biggest question of the season remains, and will remain. Through all the talk of Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin and the rest, through the flurry of roster moves and the rush-rush of this truncated off-season, the bedrock issue for the Eagles remains unresolved.
That is, Michael Vick and his blind side.
Yes, the Eagles have a new offensive line coach, Howard Mudd. And, yes, they say that Vick is better aware of the blitz than he has ever been. But we do not yet know who the starting right tackle is - and two of the three candidates are banged up. As for the right guard, it will be rookie Danny Watkins, but there was an acknowledgement yesterday from the head coach that while he is happy with the kid's overall progress, it has not been seamless. Then, at center, there is also some uncertainty as former starter Jamaal Jackson competes against another rookie, Jason Kelce.
The right side, Vick's blind side, is unsettled. Even Vick declined yesterday to be anything but honest about the uncertainty. He talked up the guys who would be protecting him, but he would not pretend that everything is going to be great.
"I can't tell you that right now," Vick said, and then drew a laugh by looking at his interrogator and saying, "Why you asking me tough questions like that? Make it easy for me. I'm ready to go home."
The biggest issue is at right tackle, where King Dunlap will get the start against the Steelers by default. Winston Justice, last year's starter, has yet to practice this summer with a residual knee injury. Ryan Harris, a free agent signed in the flurry of the first week of camp, has now missed 4 straight days of work with back spasms. Harris does have a history of back problems, although this is said not to be related - except for the part about it being, you know, his back.
No starter yet. Two guys on the shelf. And . . .
"We've got to wait and see," Vick said. "We've got to wait and see. But I believe in whoever is out there on the field. I think it's all about instilling confidence in one another and let them know that they can do it. Because anything can be done. We'll see how it goes."
A lot of this is on the quarterback. On a per-pass basis, playing behind the same line, Vick was hit a lot more often last year than Kevin Kolb was. He also made a lot more big plays than Kolb did. He also missed 3 1/2 games because of injury and looked beat up at the end of the season.
Add all of that together and you come to the inescapable conclusion that Vick has to develop at least a little bit of a discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor mentality. He needs to get rid of the ball and take what he can get sometimes when faced with a blitz. He has to find the spot on the quarterbacking continuum where he is still a home-run kind of passer, and where he uses his legs to buy time for those home runs, but where he doesn't get hit so often that he is worn down by December.
It will be tricky but it is imperative. And if training camp is any indication, Vick really does look great - and he says he sees a great future.
"I've been having a vision," he said. "I've had a vision since the beginning of the summer. The way you want things to work out may not be that way, but I'm very optimistic that we're going to have a good chance of having a great outcome this season. It's just going to take a lot of hard work, man. It's not going to be easy. Nothing is going to be given to us."
And it all will begin with Vick, and his blind side.
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The Idle Rich, at
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