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Thursday, September 24, 2009
The Vick debut: What will we learn?

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

 
  Ed Mulholland/US Presswire
  Andy Reid will have his first opportunity to use the Wildcat formation with Michael Vick.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


The Philadelphia Eagles have gone to great lengths to suggest that the signing of quarterback Michael Vick is about providing a man a second chance. Owner Jeff Lurie, a self-professed dog lover, has suggested that Vick can be an agent for change in the fight against animal cruelty.

But Sunday afternoon at the Linc, we can finally get to the heart of why Vick was signed. Eagles coach Andy Reid, a descendant of the Bill Walsh coaching tree, watched what the Dolphins were doing with the Wildcat formation last season and became insanely jealous. Yes, Reid's personal struggles with his troubled sons might have played some role in his desire to sign Vick, but the main reason was that he thought the former Falcons quarterback had the skills to be the most dangerous Wildcat quarterback in the game.

This isn't so much a story of redemption as it is an opportunity for a so-called offensive guru to greedily make up for lost time. See, guys from the Walsh coaching tree aren't fond of being outwitted by the likes of David Lee and Tony Sparano (Bill Parcells/Tom Coughlin tree). I believe that Reid's ego got the best of him -- and so he had to have the ultimate Wildcat weapon in Vick. None of these knockoff models such as Pat White in Miami or even DeSean Jackson from his own roster did the trick.

What Vick brings to the table other than considerable personal baggage is a rocket arm that could potentially strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators. In his two preseason appearances, Vick showed that his arm strength is still there. Interestingly, it's his legs we're worried about at this point. In the preseason, he didn't show the same burst that made him one of league's truly special players earlier this decade.

Reid's not saying how he will deploy his quarterbacks Sunday, but I think it's safe to say that three quarterbacks -- Kevin Kolb, Jeff Garcia and Vick -- will be active for the game. Vick's not prepared to be a full-time quarterback at this stage of his comeback, and that's why I think Garcia will be listed as the backup for Sunday's game.

Peter King reported that Reid will have a 10-play Wildcat package for Vick on Sunday. But if the Eagles have some success early in the game, I wouldn't be surprised to see Vick in there for 12-15 snaps. Could that potentially disrupt Kolb's tempo? Sure it could, but Reid doesn't care about that.

When you make a huge move such as signing the most polarizing player this side of Terrell Owens, you're not going to ease him into things. Reid believes that he has made a brilliant move and he is eager to prove that to all his doubters. Despite all his emotionless news conferences, this is a prideful man who would like to stick it in his critics' faces. In fact, Reid is a huge admirer of Parcells -- and the two have more similarities than one might think.

The problem for Reid is that defensive coordinators spent a large part of the offseason figuring how to stop the Wildcat. I keep reading about how the signing of Vick has required opposing teams to spend hours preparing for him, which robs them of precious time from preparing for the Eagles' McNabb-led base offense. With all due respect to the men and women who've introduced that theory, I think it's an absolute crock. Every time Vick comes jogging onto the field, the Eagles lose the element of surprise. Do we really think that Kolb lining up at wide receiver causes defensive backs to break out in a sweat? I'm told that Kolb ran some nice zoom routes during walkthroughs at the University of Houston, but something tells me the Chiefs will have an answer for him.

I think Reid has set himself up for failure on a couple levels. If the Vick Wildcat is just moderately successful, then everyone will say the signing wasn't worth all the potential distractions. But let's say Vick has a game early in the season where he tears it up and contributes to an Eagles win. It's not like Eagles fans need a lot of encouragement to turn on McNabb.

I still believe that at some point this season there will be pressure on Reid to replace McNabb with Vick. That could come as a result of poor play or nagging injuries. Either way, it's not going to be pretty. And all fingers will be pointed at the benevolent head coach. Even Vick expressed some doubt in the viability of the formation Wednesday.

"It really helped our football team reach a certain plateau that we wanted to reach," Vick told Philly reporters, referring to his 2006 season with the Falcons. "Down the stretch, it kind of wore itself out, and it wasn't as productive as it was in the first half of the season. It can be a part of your offense, but not a major part of your offense."

You sort of half-expected Reid to show up at any minute and yank Vick from the podium. I think the coach is looking forward to "wearing out" the formation -- and it all starts Sunday against the Chiefs. If you're looking for a prediction, I think Vick will participate in eight plays out of the Wildcat formation and he'll run for a touchdown and complete two short passes.

As long as the Eagles win, Reid will continue increasing Vick's workload. So what happens if the Eagles lose at home to the Chiefs?

Reid doesn't want any part of that question.