Without Michael Vick, the Eagles are an average NFL team

Sep 22 2011 - 6:53pm

PHILADELPHIA -- Way at the far end of the practice field on Thursday, at the corner of Broad and Long Way From The Media, the Eagles' quarterbacks began their afternoon workout with individual position drills.

It is about as exciting as it sounds -- the quarterbacks take snaps and warm up their arms throwing short passes to receivers and backs -- and on most days, it is a process that gets about as much attention as the distribution of chin straps.

This wasn't most days at the NovaCare Complex, however. It was Day 1 for Michael Vick's return to football following a concussion suffered Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons. So, there was great interest and much use of social media by the credentialed onlookers, who informed the waiting world that Vick was: a) wearing a helmet and pads, b) throwing a football, and c) able to do both at the same time.

In the perfect world of football coaches -- where everything is done behind high walls and preferably under infrared light -- the information that Vick had been cleared to play football would have remained classified. That is not the world of the NFL, however, which is repaid for such intrusions to the tune of $9 billion annually. This tends to mollify the teams somewhat, and if it means the New York Giants can curtail their extensive preparation to stop Mike Kafka, well, so be it.

In reality, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg confirmed earlier in the day that Vick had taken part in the morning walk-through, so that ended the mystery. NFL players who are removed from a game because of a concussion must pass a number of tests and then be cleared by an independent neurologist before resuming "football activities." If Vick had been in the walk-through, he was cleared to play, and the rest was just a dog and pony show. As far as we know, Vick can still associate with ponies, so he was good for that part of it, too.

After the position drills, Vick participated in the full practice, which, for an Eagles starting quarterback, means taking all or very nearly all of the repetitions with the first team. Reporters are allowed to watch some practices during the regular season with the understanding that is a courtesy and they are not allowed to actually, well, report what they see. (This leads to some gray areas, of course, which are punished on a case-by-case basis. Out-of-town reporters are not allowed to watch practice at all, lest they carry secrets back to the enemy.)

Anyway, the news that Vick fully participated in practice could not be reported until Andy Reid, as he made his way quickly off the field, said, "He practiced," in response to questions from reporters who had "watched Vick practice with their own eyes. More beagles and Shetlands and so forth.

If by some chance what you wish to learn is whether Michael Vick will start Sunday against the Giants, and not the problems encountered by reporters trying to keep their Twitter accounts lively, then you are in luck. Barring a recurrence of any concussion symptoms between now and game time -- such as confusion, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, headaches -- the answer is yes.

As noted in the NFL's policy guideline on concussions: "A critical element of managing concussions is candid reporting by players of their symptoms following an injury." That means Vick himself will have a great deal to say about whether he plays. Maybe he feels wonderful and wants to play. Maybe he feels almost wonderful and still wants to play. Some of that is on him.

"Oh, he's one of the great leaders on this team. He has old-school mentality, and he's doing everything he can to get back on the field," Mornhinweg said. "And so we'll see how the process ends up here."

Vick was sequestered with the training staff after practice as the evaluation process continued and did not speak to the media. His teammates said he looked sharp in practice and welcomed him return.

"He gives us the best chance to win," receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "Obviously, we want him out there."

The key, not just for this game but for the rest of the season, will be "keeping him out there. Vick has taken too many hits in the first two games, and even though the concussion was the result of a freakish collision with Todd Herremans, it was also the result of being spun around by a defender.

In the first two games, the offensive line has given up three sacks and 17 quarterback hits. The Giants defense, in its first two games, have compiled six sacks and 16 quarterback hits, and New York is an "ultra-blitz" defense, according to Mornhinweg. Maybe that is a strategy necessary to mask a spotty secondary, but it's all the same to the quarterback.

Without Vick, the Eagles are an average football team. With him, they can be the best. That is how much difference he makes. And that is why Thursday's practice generated all the attention and the helicopter flyovers.

What you are left wondering is how many more Thursdays this season will the individual position drills make big news.

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