I can't find a link now, but I remember a story from a couple years ago in which Tiger Woods explained that he was a much better golfer than he used to be when he was younger. His competitors no longer watched him in awe on the driving range and he wasn't winning multiple majors each year, but he had so many more shots, you see. He could hit it high or low, cut or draw it at any angle, and basically do a bunch of things he hadn't mastered back when the only way he knew how to win was to bomb the ball down the middle of the fairway and tuck iron shots within tap-in distance of the pin.
I was reminded of that article during a recent Eagles broadcast, when the announcers told us how Marty Mornhinweg explained to them that Vick was actually a much better quarterback in 2011 than he had been in 2010. He had a much better understanding of the offense and felt far more comfortable with everything they were asking him to do, he just needed to improve his execution.
Even after factoring in the usual level of coachspeak BS, this is an astonishing statement. Mike Vick didn't come close to reaching the heights of 2010 last year. He spent much of the season looking befuddled and out of sorts. Everyone talks about how reckless he is, but the truth is that many of the biggest hits came because of tentativeness. After the defenses had a summer to scout the New Vick and figure out what looks gave him trouble, he wasn't sure what he was seeing, didn't trust himself to let it go, and got punished for hanging on to the ball too long.
For comparison, it's worth reading a few things Tiger's old swing coach said earlier this year about him:
"For me, and I think we saw this at the Masters, he looks like he's playing 'golf- swing' and not golf," [Butch] Harmon said. "In my opinion, he's very robotic. And you could see that at Augusta with all his practice swings and the double-cross shots when he's trying to fade it and he hooks it. I think everyone thought because he won at Bay Hill that he was back; well, he didn't hit it great at Bay Hill, he hit it OK. And Bay Hill's not a major."
Earlier, he told me, "When I had him, I'm more of a natural-type teacher, I like to keep what you do naturally and just try to improve on it. I like to let you be creative, which he was good at." There comes a point where swing changes, no matter how sound and well-intended, can become counterproductive. "Under pressure," Harmon said, "which swing am I using? What am I thinking? What are my eyes seeing? There's too much more that goes into it than just the actual swing. He's changed so many times he may have confused himself.
Put Vick's name in there, swap out the golf language with some footballese, and that sounds like an accurate diagnosis of what we've seen from Vick in the past year or so. He's not playing football, he's thinking it, which is something of a problem when you're talking about the most gifted, natural athlete to ever play the quarterback position.
Vick has said before that he wishes Andy Reid had gotten to him sooner. Everyone does. When Vick was at his best in 2010, he ran the Reid offense -- for a short period of time -- better than anyone we've ever seen.
But you can't change history. Right now, we have Vick the 32-year-old, not Vick the 23-year-old. He's never going to play the game the way Peyton Manning plays it and -- here's the kicker -- the more they try to push him in that direction the more it seems to screw him up. It turns out, you don't get all the good stuff Vick gives you plus 30 percent or 50 percent of Peyton. You get a discombobulated mess that leaves otherwise sane individuals asking if, you know, maybe it's time to give Nick Foles a shot.
You can't have good quarterbacking without good decision making, but there's no rule about where those decisions have to be made. At one extreme you have Peyton Manning, who can go long stretches without even getting a playcall from his offensive coordinator. He just lines up, decides what he wants to run, and goes with it.
That's a great approach, if you have Peyton Manning. The Eagles don't, so it's time to concede the point and go back to coaching Vick the way they did before.
Butch Harmon again:
"If he ever asked me what I thought he needed to do, I'd tell him, look, go on the practice tee without anybody—without me, without Sean [Foley, his current coach], without Haney, without a camera, and start hitting golf shots. Hit some high draws, some low draws, high fades, low fades, move the ball up and down, move it around; don't worry about how you do it and go back to feeling it again. Quit playing golf-swing and just hit shots; just say to himself, I'm gonna hit a low fade, and I don't need anybody to tell me how to do it, I'm just gonna feel it. He's Tiger Woods, for God's sake. He doesn't know how to hit a shot?"
He's Mike Vick, for God's sake, he doesn't know how to find an open receiver and bury the ball in his gut?
I have had a sense of deep forboding heading into this season in a way I literally can't remember. Vick has looked broken for a long time and between the coaching and the abysmal offensive line play, there was no reason to believe he'd be getting the time and space he needed to pull things together. After one game, it's hard to feel like I was off in that assessment.
In today's NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback. You don't need to have the best guy or even a Hall of Famer a guy who actually deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, as Eli Manning has twice demonstrated, but you do need a guy who can make throws when it matters.
In some ways, Andy Reid is now looking at the fairest test possible. Last year was a train wreck and he could justifiably have been fired for his coaching personnel decisions, but dismissing Andy Reid because his defense sucked is a bit like firing your hitting coach because the bullpen can't hold a lead.
This year, though, the defense looks fixed. Which means it's all about Vick. If Andy Reid the quarterback whisperer can't turn that around, then you know it's time to move on.