Friday September 16th, 2011

There are times in a life, and in football, when a person is ready to do things differently. The Patriots got rebel-without-a-cause Albert Haynesworth at the right time this year; whether he ends up a great player, the one thing we do know is he's working at it, in part because he feels he's finally taking orders from a smart coach.

That's what happened with Michael Vick 25 months ago, when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and began to reshape his football career. And make no mistake about it: The Michael Vick who will take the field Sunday has his roots on the Nova Care practice field across Broad Street from where the Eagles play.

I'll get into the football part of this passion play -- not the passion of Vick going back to Atlanta as an Eagle. "That's Matt Ryan's house,'' Vick said of the Georgia Dome this week. "I'm just a visitor.'' True, but my sense is he'll have lots of support in the house Sunday night.

Vick played some Wildcat quarterback in the Eagles' 2009 rout of the Falcons at the Dome, throwing for one touchdown and running for another. But that was an appetizer. Sunday night, he comes into the Georgia Dome as the leader of a legit Super Bowl contender, not the third-string quarterback still trying to get his feet wet in a new offense.

There's a man who's helped make the current Vick happen more than anyone. When I talk to Andy Reid about Vick, he raves about the job offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has done. When I talk to Vick, he credits Reid and Mornhinweg. Now, Mornhinweg has been largely invisible since the disastrous 5-27 run as coach of the Lions in 2001 and '02, and you can't write his bio without that ugliness sticking out. Who can forget kicking off in overtime and not getting the ball back? But if the Eagles go as far as they think they can, there's going to be plenty of credit, and deservedly so, for Mornhinweg and the job he's done with Vick.

The story starts with Reid going to Mornhinweg when he was a free agent after getting out of prison in the summer of 2009. The book on Vick at the time, in many NFL circles, was that he'd come back to the NFL as a trick pony. Maybe he'd be a starting quarterback somewhere, or maybe he'd become a professional Wildcat quarterback -- the kind of run/pass option player the Dolphins made out of Ronnie Brown in 2008. Only with a great arm. But Mornhinweg said to Reid: "I think Michael can be a good fit, and if he does it in a certain way, I think he can be a Steve Young kind of player.''

One problem. Young, with the 49ers, was a 65.8-percent passer. Vick, with the Falcons, was exactly 12 percentage points lower -- 53.8 percent. Quite a stretch.

"The first time I met with Michael after he signed,'' Mornhinweg told me Thursday, "we had a short, concise talk. He said two things -- he wanted to do whatever he could to help our football team, and he wanted to learn the quarterback position.' Once a guy tells you that, you know he's going to be good to coach.

"So I put a plan into place. We'd work 30 minutes before practice and 30 to 40 minutes after practice. He'd do conditioning, and we'd mix in making quarterback plays as part of it. Ten throws with the right footwork, throwing the ball into a net with targets downfield. Then a burst of anaerobic conditioning, maybe making running-back-type movements. Then 10 more throws, when he's fatigued. One of the great ways to teach proper mechanics of the quarterback position is to do it when you're tired. It really forces you to pay attention and work hard.

"The key is, day after day, he wanted it badly. He was so determined to make it work, and to make it work quickly. We saw eye to eye from day one, because he put in the work. Lots of times coaches get a lot of credit, but in this case, I can tell you it's on Mike. Ultimately, Michael had to do it the right way, and he has, and he's the one who deserves the credit. Great talent without hard work means you put a cap on your ability. Great talent with the work -- that's when you become a great player.''

Vick's made progress, as these numbers comparing his starting days in Atlanta with his starting days in Philadelphia:

Now, one thing to keep in mind: He slumped late last season with his accuracy, and he was only 14 of 32 in his first game this year. That bears watching. But Mornhinweg believes there's no reason to believe his accuracy will stay down. He's doing nothing different now than he was when he took over the starting job last season.

Mornhinweg thinks Vick's peripheral vision has helped him see the whole field better, and to not take off at the first sign of a rush. Studying has helped too. The coaches see Vick in the office every Tuesday, and Monday and Tuesday after a win -- when the players are often off both days. This week? Nothing different ... except one little chat with his offensive coordinator.

"I told him, 'I know you're going back there, but all the hoopla, that's for the offseason.' That's it. I'm sure it'll be emotional. I'm sure he'll be able to handle it.''

How Vick does will go a long toward determining if the Eagles start 2-0 ... and if he can put his former team in a world of September hurt.

This is a self-serving (and, I hope, public-serving) new weekly category: quotes from Sports Illustrated's "NFL Podcast With Peter King.'' This week's guest is Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff, who made me get out my dictionary -- which is a good thing.

You can find the podcast on iTunes and on .

On testing Matt Ryan before drafting him in 2008: "We asked him very, very pointed questions, across the board, even to the point of, 'How are you going to deal with coming into a situation, if in fact we draft you, and deal with what has gone on in Atlanta and how will you be accepted in this community given the impact of Michael Vick?' And Matt handled it very well ... Matt's response was, 'I have no bearing on that; I can't affect that. I will just show in time that I am not Michael Vick; I am Matt Ryan. And I'll continue to produce and show not only on the field but off the field that I am someone that this organization and the community can embrace. And we can grow together.' And he eloquently delivered this pitch that I thought was right. It wasn't contrived at all."

Dimitroff, on building an organization: "We're a very collaborative organization here ... I've thought about how I really feel that we need to create a coveted environment here. I want people to stay here. I want people to stay here and pass up jobs making more money and title increases so that they can stay here and be a part of something that can be, in time, god-willing, special. That we can make this an enjoyable journey, as well. In the end, it's a pyramidal decision-making model."

On starting his NFL career as a groundskeeper: "I landed a job on the grounds crew of the same team that my father was scouting for, and that was the Cleveland Browns. And that was the very first time I got a chance to meet Bill Belichick and [scout] Scott Pioli, two highly-respected men in the business, as we all know, and two guys that have really been a part of formulating my ideas of helping to build an organization. And I spent a lot of time in those funky months, when I was painting fields and smelling awful, as Scott Pioli would say, and I'd be coming up to his [Pioli's] office and sitting down at lunch time with paint all over me just thinking about how incredibly downtrodden my life was at this time, thinking that my life was supposed to be so much different than it was at this point. That was 1992.''

Scott Chandler, TE, Buffalo (number 84). He's become the kind of matchup problem a 6-foot-7 tight end can be, and he showed it by catching two touchdown passes last week from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the 41-7 rout of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs tried first-round linebacker Justin Houston on him, but he wasn't used to dropping into coverage much; and they tried free safety Kendrick Lewis, and Chandler had seven inches on him. ""My second touchdown,'' Chandler told me over the phone Thursday, "they didn't cover me at all. I like that matchup.''

The tight end between Dallas Clark and Tony Moeaki at Iowa, Chandler was picked up on waivers from Dallas last December and re-signed as a restricted free-agent by the Bills this summer. He has become a favored target of Fitzpatrick already and will stay that way.

Washington RB Tim Hightower's rushing line vs. Arizona:

Hightower continues his quest to be the next Olandis Gary.

1. The reception for Michael Vick Sunday night at the Georgia Dome. Interesting that the Falcons are handing out Falcons flags to every fan entering the place. Trying to sway, perhaps, what I believe will be a pro-Vick crowd.

2. A ho-hummer, honesty. Maybe the games will be great. Who knows. But after Vick-Falcs and Rivers-Brady, and maybe Bears-Saints, which of the other 13 games is must-see TV?

3. Tackling. There's no way to measure how many tackles were missed in week one, after the odd offseason. But there were a lot. I think the Falcons missed between 15 and 20 at Chicago. Could be a common theme this year.

4. Dom Capers vs. Cam Newton. Newton riddled rookie Arizona coordinator Ray Horton for 422 passing yards in his NFL debut. I don't think he'll be so good against one of the game's best defensive minds -- and against a terrific Green Bay secondary.

5. The officiating assignment in Pittsburgh. Remember the Detroit Super Bowl six years ago, when ref Bill Leavy made some sketchy calls that caused the city of Seattle to collectively gag? The NFL has assigned Leavy to the Seattle-Pittsburgh game Sunday at Heinz Field, which seems odd. Mike Holmgren will be pleased to miss it.

6. Chad Ochocinco's brain. Tedy Bruschi's ranting inference on WEEI in Boston the other day was that Ocho hasn't learned the playbook, and that was overshadowed by what I thought was an over-the-top screed by the former Pats' linebacker. The rant is already's yesterday's news. What interests me is whether the hidden story -- Ochocinco's adjustment to the New England offense -- will continue Sunday against San Diego. He played a quarter of the Patriot snaps on Monday night.

7. The Eagles trying to stay perfect. They've been 2-0 once since 1993. Weird, isn't it?

8. Landry Jones aiming to take his place with Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. The college game of the weekend is Oklahoma at Florida State, the top- and fifth-ranked teams in the country going at it. All I care about is how Jones, vying with Luck and Barkley for spots in the top half of the first round in the 2012 draft, adjusts and plays against a fast defense.

9. The Miami secondary, with (and don't take this the wrong way, DolFans) the season on the line Sunday. With a bizarre road stretch looming -- five of the next six games after Sunday are away from home -- Miami has the biggest must-win game in the league this weekend. After giving up 522 passing yards to Tom Brady last week, Miami fired nickel back Benny Sapp. Who gets the ax if Matt Schaub throws for 400?

10. Costas-Vick. Maybe it's my NBC blood boiling to the surface, but I'll be interested to see what Bob Costas gets out of Michael Vick when they sit down Saturday evening in Atlanta for an interview to air Sunday night before the Philly-Atlanta game. I don't know what else, quite frankly, there is for Vick to say. And what'll be tough for Costas is that Vick's not going to want to throw out one scintilla of controversy.

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