Vick aims to take next big step
July 17, 2003
The NFL's most dynamic player also could be its most improved passer. At least that's the goal of Michael Vick, who is determined to emerge from training camp doing less free-lancing and throwing more efficiently. That's the kind of impact adding a receiver such as Peerless Price can have, even on someone as gifted as Vick. If Vick can achieve his goals, the Falcons are convinced he'll be even more threatening to defenses this season. As if he isn't scary enough already.
Just ask the rest of the league. No player will come into the 2003 schedule trailed by more of a buzz than Vick, whose captivating regular-season performance last year was given an exclamation mark by his scintillating playoff work against the Packers and Eagles. Vick has generated enough fear and respect from defenses to give him an edge entering every game. But he also is just a second-year starter, a mere pup when it comes to quarterback development.
At the same time, this could be a stressful season for Vick. No one knew what to expect of him in 2002. When his performance shot off the charts, the anticipation of what could come in the future changed dramatically. Now, he must deal with this higher bar, and so must the Falcons, whose significant offseason personnel changes have transformed them into legitimate Super Bowl dreamers. The team has tried to help Vick by replacing quarterbacks coach Jack Burns with Mike Johnson, whose charge is to refine the skills of his young star. Vick spent a considerable chunk of the early offseason away from the Falcons' training site, but his commitment lately has been more consistent, a relief to franchise officials.
"I just have to continue to improve," Vick says. "I'm not there yet. I have to learn to give the ball to the people in my offense and go through my progressions and not bail out as quickly as I did sometimes last year. Peerless makes me better; the better the players are around me, the better I will be. It takes a little off of me, and when it is time, I can be even better. You are definitely going to see a difference in me as a passer."
Price, a former Bill, gives him his first big-time receiver. It is amazing Vick was a productive passer last season -- he threw for 2,936 yards in 15 games -- considering how average his receivers were. Price caught 94 balls for 1,252 yards in 2002; Brian Finneran led the Falcons with 56 receptions for 838 yards. Vick says he needs to generate at least six touches a game for Price.
"Michael will have a better understanding of our offense and everyone else's defense," says Ron Hill, the Falcons' vice president of football operations. "He is going to know some things that are called aren't going to work, that you can't make something out of everything and that you sometimes just have to dump it off or unload it and get on to the next play. He didn't force many passes last year, but maybe he took off a bit early sometimes. You'll see improved mechanics, footwork, feel, the little things. And it'll help that Peerless never drops anything. They'll love each other, for sure."
The Falcons don't need Vick to be Dan Marino. But to accelerate his development, he must improve his accuracy (54.9 percent last year) to around 60 percent and his quarterback rating (81.6) to about 90. Both numbers will go up as long as his pocket techniques are more polished. He already has respect for ball protection. He didn't throw an interception until his seventh game last season and had just eight for the year, remarkable considering his helter-skelter style.
"I don't want to stop being Michael Vick," he says. "I just want to be a better quarterback." His fans already are convinced. The Falcons have exhausted their season-ticket supply for only the second time in franchise history.
Senior writer Paul Attner covers the NFL for The Sporting News.