The dog days are over

 
 

Former convicted criminal Michael Vick has miraculously gone on to become the best player in the NFL in recent months, writes Kevin Beirne

Since Michael Vick was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons as the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, he has been feared by every defence in the league. His time in Atlanta, however, saw him struggle in the passing game. He was inconsistent, often missing open receivers or simply not going through his progressions before putting his head down to run.

In six years with the Falcons, Vick completed only 53 per cent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 75.7. Of course, he could always hurt teams with his running ability, but that was something which should have been used as an extra weapon, not his first option – Vick can run 40 yards in 4.32 seconds, an amazing statistic for a quarterback given that Usain Bolt’s 40-yard time is 4.22 seconds.

Following his arrest for his involvement in an underground dog-fighting club in 2007 and subsequent release from prison, Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He spent his first season as the third-string quarterback behind Donavan McNabb and the young Kevin Kolb. But when McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins before the current 2010 and Kolb went down in the season opener, Vick got his chance.

Since then, Vick has shown tremendous maturity and is now being talked about as the front-runner for the league’s MVP award. In seven games as a starter, he has a record of 5-2 and most importantly, he is passing the ball like an elite quarterback. He has eleven touchdowns and no interceptions. He is completing 63 per cent of his passes and has seen his passer rating shoot up to a league high 108.7.

The question on everybody’s lips is: Why couldn’t he do this in Atlanta all those years ago? There are a number of reasons. First of all, Vick has one of the best coaches in the league mentoring him in the form of Andy Reid. Also, the group of receivers he is working with are far superior to those available to him at the Falcons.

But really, a lot of credit has to be given to Vick himself. Maybe the time he spent in prison really made him appreciate the game more and made him realise how much it meant to him.

Another reason Vick is running less is perhaps because he appreciates that he won’t survive much longer in this league if he relies on his legs like he once did. At 30 years of age, the typical point where a running back’s abilities start to fade, Vick knows that he can’t take the hits like his younger self. He knows he won’t have his speed forever, so he has adapted his game to prolong his career.

But that is not to say that the threat of a scrambling Michael Vick is gone, as he still has five touchdowns and 375 yards rushing this season. With Vick under centre, the opposing defence can’t commit too much to stopping the pass because they know he can still hurt them with his feet.

Despite the inevitable scrutiny he will receive from the press over his controversial past, this could be the year Vick earns his first Super Bowl ring.

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