The big things were always what made Michael Vick remarkable: turbocharged runs, perfectly arcing deep throws, dynamic athleticism.

It's little things, though, that have elevated his play so far this year.

The resurgent Vick has improved his footwork, the way he bends his knees, the way he angles his shoulders, and his vision, according to his coaches. The results have made Vick the talk of the NFL and a different passer from the one who mixed astounding plays with frustrating mistakes earlier in his career.

One key has been using a reliable physical "platform" when he throws.

"If you move three feet to the left in the pocket, or three feet to the right, you still want, in his case, your right shoulder in the same position, your knees bent the right way, and you want to be able to step into the throw, and so on," Eagles coach Andy Reid said this week. "He's worked very hard on that, all the way from the feet to the arms and the shoulders. And what that does is that increases your accuracy and consistency."

Consistency is the key word.

Through three games - 2 1/2 as the top quarterback - Vick has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions. The big, seemingly effortless bombs are still there, but so are precision throws.

Vick's progression under Reid is similar in some ways to that of his friend and this Sunday's opponent, Donovan McNabb, a mobile quarterback with a big arm who, as time went on, began to rely more on his throws than runs.

Vick is one of three starting quarterbacks yet to throw an interception this season. His 110.2 passer rating is second best in the NFL, after Peyton Manning's 116.9.

Vick can still uncork a gorgeous deep ball, and his speed appears to be close to, if not equal to, that of his younger years. Those weapons, though, have been used judiciously.

Now when Vick runs, Reid said, he keeps his eyes downfield, looking for a throw.

"I see a guy who is more patient, more willing to sit inside the pocket and wait for things to develop down the field before he takes off," Jim Mora, who coached Vick in Atlanta, said recently on the NFL Network.

Perhaps the best illustration of Vick's changed methods came Sunday, when, with the first half winding down, Vick held the ball for three, four, five seconds in the pocket as he waited for a receiver to come open. The result of his patience: a touchdown strike.

He is completing 60.7 percent of his throws.

In Atlanta, Vick never completed more than 56.4 percent of his passes. His best passer rating was 81.6.

He carried his teams, but in his last three years as a Falcon - 2004, 2005, and 2006 - he turned the ball over 19, 18, and 16 times.

Last year four teams had 19 or fewer giveaways.

In addition to working on mechanics, Vick has studied hard since coming to Philadelphia, Reid said.

"We have to kind of kick him out of the building here," the coach said. "I don't know if that's the way it was always in his career."

Vick confirmed as much Tuesday. Speaking to high school students at Imhotep Charter School as part of his agreement to work against dogfighting, Vick weaved together stories about how his fame and early success led to problems off the field, as well as on it.

"I didn't work out, didn't study films . . . it set me back," Vick said.

Now, he says, there is less time for Xbox, golf, and fishing.

"I have to spend more time being well-prepared and showing the guys around me that I'm as committed as they are," Vick said.

It will take more than three weeks to measure Vick's actual improvements and whether he is a better option this season than McNabb would have been.

Much of his outstanding play has come against two of the worst defensive teams in the NFL, the Lions and Jaguars. This week he faces the Redskins, who rank last in yards allowed.

The early returns, though, have been strong and surprising.

Vick had a difficult off-season, frequently spraying errant passes during training camp and committing four turnovers in preseason games.

Few, if anyone, who watched those contests expected to see Vick play like this. Even Reid said Vick has exceeded expectations.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin noted this week that Vick didn't have the advantage of working with the first team in the preseason, making it harder on the quarterback.

Indeed, part of Vick's improvement with the Eagles can be attributed to the array of skilled players around him, including Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy.

Many of those teammates remember watching Vick as they grew up, using his likeness in video games. In the rout of the Jaguars, they had to encourage him to run more after a tense start to the game that found the offense sluggish. He eventually obliged, and after passing for three scores, he added a final 17-yard touchdown burst.

It was a touch of the old Vick to go along with the new.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari
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