BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Much has been made of Michael Vick's needing to avoid injury this season if the Eagles are to be successful.
But even remaining healthy for all 16 games may not be enough for Vick and the Eagles to make the playoffs and extend their season through the postseason. He still, at 32, has to improve at playing the quarterback position.
Perhaps most important, Vick has to become a better game manager, especially in the final moments of close contests. Vick has said this is the year it all comes together, the year he puts the driver back in the bag and instead pulls out the low iron.
"The ability to manage the game, whether we're in no huddle, two minute, whether it's just being poised and making good decisions," Vick said earlier this week at training camp. "I think it's going to be a difference-maker."
Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have worked strenuously thus far in camp on Vick's awareness late in close games. There are always hurry-up, two-minute, no-huddle drills early in camp, but the Eagles have thrown the whole kit and caboodle at Vick.
Mornhinweg said he can already see a marked improvement.
"The biggest thing that he's so much more comfortable - he's seeing the big picture, at a much higher level," the Eagles offensive coordinator said. "The guys that have that great athleticism that he has early in their careers, typically, don't see the big-picture stuff . . . because they just use their great athleticism, and it kind of trumps that."
Mornhinweg pointed to one moment at a recent practice as an example of the improved Vick. Before the play, Vick noticed the defense was overloading one side with a blitz. He redirected the pass protection to pick up the blitz and threw away from the defense - a "post alert," as Mornhinweg called it - with a long completion to DeSean Jackson.
"These are things that he is way further ahead, and he's doing fantastic," Mornhinweg said.
Reid said that Vick has become more comfortable calling plays at the line. Last season, Vick had opportunities to direct game-winning drives against the 49ers, Bills, Bears, and Cardinals.
The failure to convert in the first two games was not Vick's fault. Jeremy Maclin fumbled against San Francisco, and Jason Avant fumbled against Buffalo. But Vick came up small in the latter two games.
"His calls in the huddle have always been good," Reid said. "But to take it and do the no-huddle the way he did it [Wednesday] - it's just easier than it was for him before . . . fresher."
We take this moment to acknowledge that the Eagles and Vick said pretty much the same thing last camp - that he had finally understood the intricacies of playing the position. But Vick did not have a proper offseason last year. This offseason was his first full one as a starter in six years.
"It's unfortunate that I didn't have what I [have] now," Vick said, hearkening back to his days in Atlanta. "That was just the situation that was created. If it was meant to be, then God would have placed those people around me to help me progress as a quarterback."
Vick sees his career arc as similar to the one that Steve Young had. Early in his career in Tampa Bay, Young was seen as a reckless turnover machine and inaccurate passer. He sat behind Joe Montana in San Francisco for several years, biding his time, learning a new way to manage the position.
In took three seasons as the starter before he won a Super Bowl, however. Vick, about to embark on his third season as the Eagles starter, sees a pattern. He's always watched a lot of Young, but said he's recently pulled the video out again.
"Steve won his first championship when he was 33, and I just want to see the evolution to that point," Vick said Thursday. "How he progressed, what he did, in Week 3 as opposed to Week 8. I'm just trying to see what it takes to become a champion."
Young was a master of game management.
"Steve was a surgeon," said Mornhinweg, Young's offensive coordinator from 1997 to 1999. "And he had such great gifts, much like Mike, that as he got older, he played the quarterback position better and better. He rarely used his legs, but when he did, he used them just beautifully."
Mornhinweg once said that it would take three years for Vick to learn how to properly play quarterback in the Eagles' system.
"It's Year 3," Vick said.