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Vick, Griffin III through a looking glass

9/5/2013

PHILADELPHIA – It must be like looking into a mirror for Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III -- only instead of a reflection, each sees a projection of himself across time.

Vick, 33, sees what was and what might have been if he’d harnessed his full potential when he was the hot young quarterback revolutionizing the game.

“I’m a fan of his just like he’s a fan of mine,” Vick said Wednesday. “I like the way he plays. I like the desire he brings to the game.”

Griffin, 23, sees what might yet be, the good and the bad. Vick is still in the league, still starting at quarterback. But he has never been to a Super Bowl, hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2004 season and has missed games due to injury in all but one of his NFL seasons.

That should resonate with Griffin, who is set to start for the Washington Redskins against Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night -- his first game action since blowing out his knee in last season's playoffs. There is an obvious correlation between their style of play and their risk of injury.

“It’s not something you want to harp on,” Griffin said. “But it has been something I’ve heard for the past eight months, about sliding and getting out of bounds. So that’s something I’m going to do. It’s just a part of playing football. You live and you learn.”

Vick has lived and learned that, well, sliding just doesn’t really work for him. He has talked about it, too, but has shown no real commitment to doing it. Even in the preseason, he dived forward at the end of runs, sometimes as tacklers closed in on him.

Maybe Griffin will have more success learning to avoid contact. It won’t be easy. It used to be that mobile quarterbacks were told they needed to remain in the pocket to avoid injury. Both Vick and Griffin will be in offenses that thrive on their ability to run.

The position is in a state of enormous flux. Being called a running quarterback isn’t an insult. It’s the highest compliment. Vick wasn’t the first in the NFL, but he’s definitely a major part of the evolution.

“He was a lot of fun to watch,” Griffin said, “not just running the ball but throwing the ball. He paved the way for a lot of quarterbacks like myself, and guys before him paved the way for him. You always have a lot of respect for the guy. He’s been through a lot in his life and still come out, still a starting quarterback in the NFL.”

With the emergence of running quarterbacks and read-option-based offenses has come a backlash. Defensive coaches are advocating hitting the quarterback every chance defenders get. It is a penalty to hit a quarterback late in the pocket, but if the signal-caller hands off and pretends he still has the ball, he’s fair game.

So at a time when Vick and Griffin need to prove they can stay healthy, they are at more risk than ever.

“I don’t know what to expect from defenses,” Griffin said. “They’re always going to try to throw something special at you. But you’ve got to be careful when you talk about targeting quarterbacks because that sounds a whole lot like a bounty to me.”

He’s not alone in making that comparison. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh watched the Ravens put as many hits as possible on Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl. Harbaugh was made aware of comments by Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who will be chasing Kaepernick around Sunday.

Matthews said, in essence, that hitting quarterbacks after fakes might just discourage coaches from exposing them to such risks. That would be a huge boon to defenses trying to counter the game’s latest trend.

Harbaugh told reporters he raised the issue with the league office and that Matthews’ talk smacks of “targeting a player.”

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly had a more direct solution.

“They’ve got to catch you first, right?” Kelly said. “So carry out your fake and run really fast. … Any quarterback has to be prepared for hits if they're carrying out fakes. That's just the rule in the game.”

Time will tell if Griffin is able to deliver the championship that has eluded Vick. But he’ll only get the chance if he’s able to remain healthy and on the field. The same things that make Vick and Griffin such threats to defenses also threaten their well-being.