Expectations were sky high in 2011. Michael Vick was coming off a terrific season. Vince Young, a successful starter with big time ability, was in town as the backup. Mike Kafka would be a good number three quarterback at the very least. The Eagles had a loaded lineup and enough good quarterbacks to deal with whatever came up.
Vick went from superstar quarterback to inconsistent playmaker. He got hurt and couldn't finish early games against the Falcons and Giants. He started to throw the ball to the other team (and they caught it). Vick got sloppy with his throws and batted passes became an issue. He still remained a threat as a runner, but failed to run for a touchdown until mid-December. He missed three games in the second half of the season with a rib injury. The great season of 2010 was a distant memory.
Young got on everyone's bad side the moment he uttered the phrase "dream team". He didn't mean it in a boastful, arrogant way, but that's how it came across and perception became reality. Young took over for a series in the first Washington game and threw a terrible interception. He then started three games later on and went 1-2. He threw some terrible interceptions and never looked comfortable in the Eagles passing attack.
Kafka looked terrific when he played in the Atlanta game. He led the team right down the field on a key drive, only to have Jeremy Maclin drop a pass on fourth down in the red zone. Kafka played the following week against the Giants and wasn't impressive. He remains an unknown commodity.
In some ways Vick is an unknown commodity as well. There are times when he looks like a flat out sensational player. He can throw deep bombs, lasers to the sideline, or put touch on short throws. He can be deadly accurate. There are other times when he's not so good. Vick will force the ball into traffic, making you hope for an incompletion. He can be slow with his release, which leads to batted balls. That seemed to be a bigger problem in the red zone than anywhere else. It sure felt like Vick had a ton of passes deflected down there.
Vick was going to focus on improving his pre-snap reads in 2011. He did show some improvement in that area, but not enough. There were still too many plays where he held the ball too long and struggled to find a target. A lot of times this happens when a quarterback is slow in reading the defense. Vick must make good pre-snap reads. Then he must be prepared to check down and get the ball to an outlet receiver if nothing is happening.
This is going to be Vick's first offseason as the starting quarterback since 2006. Think about how long ago that was. Donovan McNabb was a star quarterback. T.O. was a star receiver. Neither of the Mannings had ever been to a Super Bowl. Lindsay Lohan still had a future. We're talking about a long time ago.
Vick needs every rep possible during the mini-camps and passing camps. He needs to go to Lehigh ready to take his game to another level. He needs to be mentally sharp. He must already have his timing with the receivers down pat. This is a huge offseason for his future. The interceptions and erratic play from 2011 cannot return. Vick doesn't need to throw for 5,000 yards or 50 touchdowns for the Eagles to win. He needs to play well and he needs to protect the ball, especially in the red zone.
The other thing Vick must do is stay on the field. Reid mentioned in his recent press conference that the four teams playing in the conference championship games had quarterbacks who started all 16 games. Durability is huge. Vick says he will work out to make his body stronger and more durable. That's all well and good, but just as critical is being smarter about contact. Fighting for every single yard when scrambling is short-sighted. Worry about winning the war, not the battle, so to speak. Some big hits happened while Vick was in the pocket. That ties in to him making better pre-snap reads and getting the ball out quickly. Not every play has to be perfect. Find the open guy and get him the ball quickly. Focus on moving the chains, not scoring touchdowns. Once you get to the red zone, then worry about the touchdowns. The great quarterbacks understand that the short plays can be just as important as the big ones. Keep the ball moving. Wear down the defense. And protect yourself.
Is Vick good enough to win a Super Bowl? He absolutely has the talent to do that. He's won playoff games in the past so I don't think the pressure of the postseason is too big for him. I think he can win a Super Bowl, but he must realize it will happen if he runs the offense more than he runs the ball. Sit back and distribute the ball. Be a point guard for the offense. There is plenty of firepower. In Atlanta he had to carry the team. That's not the case when you have weapons like the Eagles do.
Speaking of needing an offseason, that is true for Kafka as well. He was hurt by last year's lockout. That kept him from working with the coaches on little things and getting reps in the passing camps. The coaches don't have enough time during the season to work extensively with Kafka. Young quarterbacks benefit greatly from offseason practices. The coaches have the time to work on fundamentals and do whatever the young player needs.
So the Eagles head into 2012 with Vick and Kafka. Surely there is no way that Young returns. He's a free agent and I just can't see Andy Reid wanting to bring him back. Young was a project that failed. Time to move on. The Eagles do need to add a third quarterback, either in free agency or through the draft. I don't think the Eagles will look at Kafka as the primary backup this year. The team can't count on Vick playing all 16 games. If he misses two or three starts, do you want Kafka at the helm? I doubt they are ready for that.
More than a few people have asked me about the Eagles drafting a quarterback. That would be great, but this is not a compelling group. Once you get past Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, things thin out in a hurry. Ryan Tannehiill will probably be a first round pick, but I don't see him as an Eagles target at pick 15. After him, things get real crazy. Brandon Weeden will turn 29 in October. Could he be a target? Some people like Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins, or Nick Foles, but I'm not all that thrilled with any of them. I do have interest in one player - Russell Wilson. The problem is that he's just under 5-11. He makes Vick look like Manute Bol. Wilson is talented, but short and a project. It could be that the Eagles love one of these quarterbacks and makes a play for him, but I don't see it. Bad crop to choose from. I certainly do agree that it would be ideal for the Eagles to get a young stud signal caller. I just don't see a good fit. If Wilson falls far enough, I would be interested in him.
The Eagles will have some interesting choices in free agency. Old friend A.J. Feeley will hit the market. Jason Campbell would make some sense. There isn't anyone who is a slam dunk target that the team must get. They have worked out Trent Edwards a couple of times so far this offseason. He showed great promise early on at Buffalo, but a nasty hit from Adrian Wilson led to a concussion in his second year and Edwards became highly inconsistent after that. He had some good games, but also had some stinkers. Edwards suffered another concussion in 2009 and struggled behind a porous offensive line. He's done as a starter, but could be an effective backup. I can't give him a ringing endorsement, but I do think it is imperative that the Eagles find someone who fits the offense. Young was lost. He needs to be on a team that runs the ball and throws more situationally. That's not the Eagles.
Vick, Kafka, and a new guy should be good enough for the Eagles to be a Super Bowl contender in 2012. Really, this boils down to Vick. He must stay on the field. He must protect himself and the ball better. He needs to play smarter. Toughness and talent aren't questions at all. With a few changes, Vick could go back to being an elite quarterback and the Eagles could get back to being a top flight team.