Michael Vick at the crossroads

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
12:30
PM ET
Michael VickAP Photo/Paul SancyaMichael Vick's long journey back to being a starting NFL quarterback is finally over.
PHILADELPHIA -- Michael Vick's road to redemption has hit another very important crossroads -- maybe the most profound one yet.

Ever since he was released from prison last summer, the Eagles’ quarterback has worked hard to reach this point. On Sunday, in Jacksonville, Vick begins Act II of his life as a starting quarterback again in the NFL.

A lot has happened to Vick since he was released from Leavenworth Prison. He has tried to rehabilitate his image -- from a dog-killing ex-convict to a contributing member of society and a good teammate.

Remember, when he came to Philadelphia, he was a social pariah. The Eagles -- particularly head coach Andy Reid -- saved Vick from the scrap heap of life. The commissioner of the NFL once described his actions as "heinous."

In the summer of 2009, no other NFL team was seriously interested. Only Reid and the Eagles. Now, Vick gets to return the favor. He was saved by Reid; now he gets to save Reid.

Vick told me he thinks about that a lot. He told me it’s all very humbling to him.

I’ve been around Vick since the day he got released from prison. And I remember him very well from his six years in Atlanta. He’s a much different person.

Gone is the sense of entitlement and arrogance. He is more sensitive to those around him and his surroundings -- and much more coachable. He has been scared straight. He has received great counseling from Tony Dungy and great coaching from Reid, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach James Urban.

He has better pocket awareness, improved mechanics and a better understanding of how to play quarterback.

He must learn to read defenses better and learn to recognize the blitz. In 44 drop-backs last Sunday in Detroit, he was hit 24 times. If that continues, he won’t last the season. (The Eagles are advised not to trade Kevin Kolb. They may need him.) Remember, Vick hasn’t played much in three years. In that time, defenses have completely changed -- it has become a blitz-heavy league, and he is adjusting to that.

And Vick will have to adjust to his new role as leader of this Eagles team. DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin remember Vick in a Falcons uniform when they were playing Madden when they were kids.

For them, it’s a surreal experience. "You just can’t believe it when you see him on the field, how much faster he is than everybody else," Maclin said.

The pressure is also on Vick off the field. He had that hiccup in June when his friend was shot outside his ill-advised birthday party. He nearly got kicked out of the league for good. He told me then this is his last chance. Since then, the Eagles have put in tougher monitoring measures to guide Vick -- measures strongly suggested by the league office.

This is the moment Vick has been waiting for, a chance to show that 15 months of hard work and re-making himself as a football player and a man were all worth it.

It begins Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET in Jacksonville.

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN. His latest book is "How Football Explains America."

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.

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