Sunday, July 31, 2011
Vick's resurgence lures talent to Philly
By Ashley Fox
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Michael Vick had heard the comparison, that after a dizzying couple of days of trades and free agency, his Philadelphia Eagles have become the NFL's version of the Miami Heat.
Just look at the names: Nnamdi Asomugha. Vince Young. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Jason Babin. Cullen Jenkins.
That is four Pro Bowl players in the fold, four sure-fire starters and another in Young who very easily could get on the field this season. He will be one punishing hit to Vick away from assuming control of the Philadelphia offense.
"We'll take it," Vick said on Sunday of being compared to the widely-hated Heat. "We'll take it. It's always a challenge, man, and that's the great part about it. When you try to accomplish something as a team, when you have to come together as one, it makes it special in the end.
"It's going to be a grind. It's not going to be easy. Nothing's going to be given to us and everybody's going to be gunning for us. But, we're ready."
The Heat comparison, driven by a tweet from Babin on Saturday in which he straight-up said "I feel like we are the Miami Heat of the NFL," is a bit silly. This is football, the ultimate complicated team sport, not basketball, where it is easier to mesh talent.
With the Heat, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh conspired to play together. They found strength in their union. With the Eagles, each acquisition has had his own reason for joining the organization.
Babin loves the Eagles' new defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, who single-handedly turned Babin into a Pro Bowler last year in Tennessee.
Asomugha was looking for a winning organization from the owner on down, one that could vie for a Super Bowl immediately and one that would support his philanthropic interests.
|Comparing the Eagles to the Heat is silly, right? |
Young needed fresh voices to teach him the quarterback position in a less stressful environment as a backup.
But the one constant thread was this: Everyone wanted to play with Vick.
As a football player, Vick is as well-liked by his peers as anyone in the league. He is a "baller," fearless and reckless and determined to win. Players on both sides of the ball see it, and those who have played with him know he has a singular focus and is more motivated than ever to win a championship.
Vick is a lifetime away from where he was two years ago. After he was released from prison following an 18-month stay for fighting and killing dogs, Vick was a shell of himself. He was slow, soft and humbled to the point of almost being meek. He was happy for a second chance, but he had to rebuild himself as a person and as a player.
It took almost a full season to get his legs back, and the success he enjoyed last season, after surpassing Kevin Kolb as the Eagles' starter, was the product of Vick spending long hours at the office, studying film, working on the field before and after practice and taking advantage of an opportunity.
Vick has a magnetism that is hard to describe. Last season, he would get into the huddle when the Eagles were in the red zone and say, "I'm going to score. Who's going to help me?" And he would.
He was massively confident in his abilities, and the Eagles' players rallied around him. Now free agents are flocking to him.
"Right now, I'm just going to be paying attention to him, listening, asking questions," Young said. "At the same time, I'm definitely going to be the best that I can be in order to push, because I want to see him be the best that he can be and help him lead this team to a Super Bowl."
At the Pro Bowl in January, Vick, like a lot of the other players there, gave Asomugha what Asomugha called "a mini-recruiting pitch," to try to lure the Oakland cornerback to Philadelphia.
"'It'd be great to have you,'" Asomugha recalled Vick saying. "'We'd be taking another step.' I saw him today and his first words were, 'We made it happen.' So he was right. We did.
Obviously, that was a big draw. He's a great player and a talented player."
Interestingly, the one free agent Vick really wanted -- Plaxico Burress -- Philadelphia did not get. Burress, who signed with the New York Jets on Sunday, would have given the Eagles a dimension they do not currently possess: a big target in the back of the end zone, as well as insurance in the event DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin is not available at the start of the season. Jackson wants a new contract and has not reported to training camp, while Maclin is suffering from an undisclosed illness and also has not reported to camp.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed we didn't get Plax, but you can't get everything that you want," Vick said.
The Eagles have gotten an awful lot, though, and Vick deserves at least part of the credit. Knowing all offseason he was going to be the Eagles' starter, Vick worked out with a trainer in Virginia and focused on his diet. He shaved a few pounds off his playing weight last season and reported to camp a chiseled 208 pounds.
Vick is ready to go, and ready to win, and ready to take whoever wants to go along with him.
"It means a lot," Vick said of all of the free-agent signings. "It means what I try to bring to the table each and every Sunday guys respect, and that's a winning attitude, humbleness and always striving for success. I think they appreciate that, and they want the same thing, so we're going to get it done."
|Michael Vick is rejuvenated physically and has turned himself into a respected leader.|
Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.