Andy Reid gathered the guys into a tight circle last week, gave them a good talking-to about what lies ahead, then turned them loose for the next five weeks. He hated to do it, but the league and the players union made him.
"The players now go into pre-Phase 1 period," Reid said, and if it is possible to sound enthusiastic saying those words, he pulled it off.
Everyone at the NovaCare Complex is upbeat and enthusiastic about the 2012 NFL season these days. The organization appears convinced that whatever led to a 4-8 start last season has been fixed by free-agent signings, a solid draft class, extended contracts for key players, and a thorough coach 'em up during the minicamp and OTA season that ended Thursday. Maybe so, but it's always easy to be optimistic when the players are still wearing gym shorts.
The Eagles seem intent on being a little more open and friendly to those outside the walls, which is part of the reason Joe Banner has been freed to chase his dream somewhere else. Reid is doing his best to be part of the public-relations solution, too. Rather than sitting on stage, where he tends to be stiff, Reid took questions on the field last week in as casual an atmosphere as one can have surrounded by 25 people recording your every grunt.
"I like this out here," Reid said. "I can reach out and grab hold of you."
That's a lot funnier in June than it might be in October, but give the organization points for trying on all these counts. Turning Reid into a raconteur isn't going to happen, though, and sometimes it's better to just let people be who they are. If the Eagles go 13-3, no one will care whether Reid can spin a good yarn about it.
In the same way, a lot of energy and attention has been given to the retooling of quarterback Michael Vick, who can tell you all about public-relations makeovers. This time, the organization's focus is on Vick's tendencies on the field. Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg want Vick to play a less-risky game to keep him on the field.
That's all very reasonable, except that the only thing that makes Vick special is the risky way he plays the position. It was either Ray Nitschke or Friedrich Nietzsche who said you have to be careful about "casting out your demon" because it might be the best thing about you. If the Eagles turn Vick into some version of himself with all the edges padded, he might just stink. Which, by the way, might have already happened to some extent.
"I know this . . . he progressed beautifully last year," Mornhinweg said recently. "The results didn't quite show like he wanted or I wanted or the organization or fans wanted it. But he's much further ahead playing the quarterback position at a high level now than he was at any time in the past."
Well, that sounds great, Marty, but there's a difference between being able to correctly identify the first four reads on any given play and being able to actually make things happen on the field. Donovan McNabb was a playbook star - and could be counted on to check down to that third-option dump pass with regularity - but that didn't make him special.
In 2010, when Vick, with the benefit of zero reps as the starting quarterback, took over for Kevin Kolb, he unfurled the greatest season of his career. He took off and ran a lot, he didn't throw many interceptions, and he played an unconventional game for which few defenses could prepare.
Switch to 2011, and Vick didn't run the ball nearly as much, which often led him to stay too long in the pocket and try too many low-percentage passes. He had 14 interceptions, and, despite allegedly taking fewer risks, still missed three games with broken ribs and was knocked out of two others (concussion and hand injury).
When Vick was at his best, running the ball has accounted for more than 20 percent of the plays in which he either threw the ball or carried it himself. In 2002 and 2010, when he had his highest quarterback ratings, Vick ran once for every 3.7 times he threw.
In 2011, runs were just 15 percent of his plays, and he threw the ball 5.6 times for every time he ran it. And he was awful. What's the lesson? It might be that you don't want Vick throwing the ball too much, or at least that you don't want the defense knowing he's going to throw it.
Fewer defenses found it necessary to dedicate a defender to spy on his movements in 2011, and that gave the defenses more flexibility. Vick's greatest strength is that he can create uncertainty, which is why it is madness to make him more predictable for the opposition.
"If you want to rush for 100 yards, you're going to take a beating," Vick said. "If you want to be there for your teammates, then you have to be cautious and play a pretty safe game."
It's hard to tell whether he believes that or has just learned to say what the coaches want to hear. His history suggests that he is not as programmable once the game begins, and that might be best for the Eagles. If he is healthy and ineffective, where is the gain?
So let Vick go back to being Vick and take your chances one more season. Makeovers don't always work anyway, and the result - not the perception - is what matters. That's true on the field, and at the podium, too.