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Andy Reid: Gambler or Genius?

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You got to know when to start 'em, know when to bench 'em Know when to throw the ball and know when to run You never count your wins when you're early in the season There'll be time enough for countin' when the season's done

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My last column talked about how Andy Reid would stick with Kevin Kolb as the starting quarterback, a move that I fully supported. Andy's comments over the weekend confirmed that idea. And then something crazy happened. I clicked over to PhiladelphiaEagles.com on Tuesday afternoon to see if any interesting articles were up and there was a headline stating that Michael Vick had been named the team's starting quarterback. Wow. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Talk about a shocker.

Reid will take chances, but he's fiercely loyal and I just couldn't imagine him going away from his original plan. I watched his press conference and an interview he did with PE.com to see what he had to say. I thought about his comments for quite a while as I tried to figure out what he was thinking. I'm not a fan of the move. I think you stick with Kevin Kolb, which was Reid's original intention. What changed his mind?

The first thing you have to understand is that his move isn't about Kevin Kolb. It is about Michael Vick. Kolb wasn't benched. Vick got the job because he played at such a high level. That may sound like legalistic argument or splitting hairs, but I think it is an important distinction to understand in this case. If Vick had gone 15-28 for 190 yards and thrown one score and one pick, he doesn't get the promotion. Giving him the job in that kind of a situation would be a slap at Kolb. "I'm losing my job to a guy who played okay, but hardly stood out?"

Instead, Vick threw for 284 yards and a pair of scores. He didn't make any critical mistakes. He was good on third downs and the offense was good in the red zone. Vick ran 4 times for 40 yards. He had some runs late in the game which lowered the total, but those were the key numbers. Set aside stats. The offense ran pretty smoothly. Think about who was out there. You had a center starting his first NFL game. The number four receiver was a rookie. The number two tight end was playing his first game as an Eagle. Same for the starting fullback. And Vick was starting his first game since December of 2006. This wasn't like A.J. Feeley or Jeff Garcia stepping in to run a veteran unit. My initial response when watching Vick was that he played well. When you put everything into context, Vick really did play a pretty amazing game. That apparently was something Reid couldn't overlook. But still...how does he sit "his guy"? Kolb was picked and groomed because Andy believed so strongly in him.

Let's talk some more about Vick. I've said since his days as a Falcon that he is the most naturally gifted quarterback in the history of football. Think about that. We're not talking about a good player with Pro Bowl talent. We're talking about a guy that can do uncanny things. He is one of the most elusive quarterbacks you'll ever see. He doesn't have his old rocket legs, but even at age 30 he is the fastest quarterback in the league. Vick has a great arm. He can make some jaw-dropping throws. Simply put, Vick is a special talent.

His performance against Detroit showed a level of progression as a passer that was unexpected. The coaches felt Vick would benefit from coming here and being in a structured environment. They felt he would grow as a quarterback since he would play in an established offense and one that is based on passing. As a Falcon, things were built around Vick. Here, he started off as the number four quarterback. Vick didn't fight the situation. He embraced it. He learned a lot from Donovan McNabb. He watched how hard McNabb worked despite the fact he was already a star player. That really had an effect on Vick. Seeing a young guy like Kolb work so hard in practice also had to be interesting. Practice wasn't just something you put up with while waiting for Sunday to roll around. It was a tool for improving your game and a way to show the coaches you were learning.

Based on what we saw Sunday, Vick has been paying attention in practice and really working on his skills as a pocket passer. Vick has shown he can run a passing offense without needing to improvise on a regular basis. That was never the case in Atlanta. He fed the ball to tight end Alge Crumpler and everything else was very hit or miss. He's only got a career completion percentage of 54 percent. That's bad in modern football for a regular starting quarterback.

The Vick we saw on Sunday is light years ahead of the guy we signed a year ago or went up against when he was a Falcon. We knew he was improved, but I think even Andy Reid was caught off guard by how much better he is. The crazy thing is that Vick still has a lot of room for growth.

As Reid studied the situation on Monday and Tuesday he had to adjust his thinking. This was no longer Kevin Kolb the star pupil against Michael Vick the reclamation project. Suddenly, Reid had a veteran quarterback playing at a high level. And a guy with star potential. I don't mean "star" in the sense of highlights and headlines so much as a player with the ability to make special plays and be a significant difference maker. This part of the equation didn't exist until Sunday afternoon at about 5pm. Vick's showing against the Lions changed everything for Reid.

One thing that Reid said really caught my attention. The first person he met with to discuss the situation was Kevin Kolb. Very interesting. Reid didn't first consult an assistant coach or Howie Roseman or Joe Banner. He talked with Kolb. This shows you the kind of relationship that Reid has with Kolb.

Reid didn't want to make the change as if it was a casual move. I think he really struggled with the notion of not putting Kolb back out there. Kolb has done everything the Eagles have asked of him. He's passed every test so far. Reid is very much a believer in doing things a certain way. That way would mean Kolb getting his job back.

This is when Andy had to study the situation from an overall perspective. How would this move affect Kolb, a player that Reid still believes in. Kolb was set to replace a legend, but things were set up so that Kolb had a pretty favorable situation. That was back in the spring. Things have gone a little off track since then. The offensive line has undergone changes and isn't playing at a high level. Reid hoped to have an improved ground game to help out Kolb, but Charles Scott was a disappointment in camp and Mike Bell has been slowed by injuries. Star fullback Leonard Weaver tore up his knee in the opener. There is still plenty of firepower on offense, but this hasn't been the smoothest couple of months.

Who between Kolb and Vick is best suited to handle the current offensive situation? Kolb took some big hits in the opener despite only playing a half. Dealing with change at center and right guard has hurt the line. Having so many new and young skill players has affected the ability to pick up the blitz. We've had too many rushers coming free up the middle and off the edge. I think when considering this angle Reid had to feel Vick gave us a big boost. Vick showed on Sunday that he can elude unblocked rushers and still get the ball downfield. Teams will only quit blitzing if you burn them enough.  The lack of good line play certainly wasn't the basis for the move, but I don't think you can ignore it as a consideration. 

Vick's ability as a runner will help on short yardage and goal line situations. With Weaver out and Mike Bell struggling, any boost to the running game is a good thing. We have done a good job in the red zone this year. That's been a major problem in recent years. Whether Vick has made major impact is up for debate, but the offense is executing in those situations for some reason and you don't want to mess with success.

Kolb didn't have a good preseason. He was up and down. Oddly, Vick was also up and down. I was surprised to hear Reid admit that about Vick. Normally Reid is very protective of his players, but I think he might have been trying to illustrate just how much things had changed in the last few weeks.

Reid may have decided that Kolb having to compete with McNabb's legend and Vick's sudden popularity would have an affect on the young player. Succeeding McNabb was going to be tough enough, but could he compete with both McNabb and Vick? That's a lot. Fans and the media would focus on every mistake or problem and question Kolb about why things were going wrong. Eagles fans are some of the toughest critics in the NFL and the Philly media can be extremely aggressive, even adversarial at times.

Everything I've said up to now makes it sound like basically a no-brainer. You've got to go with Vick. But wait...I said at the start that I'm still against the move. What gives?

I'm a firm believer that people and teams establish an identity and they are most successful when sticking with that identity. Andy Reid has been very regimented in his way of doing things since getting hired early in 1999. His actions have led to a lot of success, but he's also driven some people crazy. Reid didn't care. He has no problem with taking the heat. He's never been a guy that acted based on what the public would want. He's secretive. He's methodical. He's also successful.

Making a change like this is very out of character. That may not seem like a big deal, but I'm not so sure. Dallas and Washington are teams that fly by the seat of their pants. They roll the dice quite a bit. The Giants do some of this, but are fairly grounded. Until the Vick move, we've done very little that would fall into this category.

This is where Reid is playing with fire. He's stepped outside his comfort zone. Things could go great and Reid will get a ton of credit. The situation could blow up in Reid's face and we'll be dealing with the backlash for years. We are talking about the quarterback position after all.

What happens if Vick plays great for the next 14 weeks? Do we hitch our wagon to him long term? Can you trust him? Vick is a changed man since getting out of prison. He was a careless, cocky young man that did whatever he wanted. Spending time in Leavenworth and going through a huge public scandal made him a much different person. That's good for us. My question is what happens if he is great and we give him a big contract. Will the contract change Vick into something different? Will he stay humble and focused? Is that the guy you build your franchise around. Ask Arthur Blank how that worked out for him.

Reid didn't do Kolb any favors by having a guy like Vick as his backup. If Vick is great, but we let him leave in the offseason and stick with Kolb, that will still complicate things. Kolb will still have to answer comparisons to him and questions about every problem that arises.

Could we trade Kolb? That's a possibility, but unlikely. The way I see it Reid is trying to have it both ways. He wants Vick for now and Kolb for the future. That's great, but Kolb needs playing time to get ready for the future. He's not going to learn a lot from watching Vick that he didn't already pick up in the last three years. Kolb needs snaps in a live game. At some point, we've got to put him on the field, whether the circumstances are ideal or not.  I still think Kolb can be a good starter in the NFL. I hope it is for the Eagles, but things have definitely gotten more complicated.

Reid normally has a plan for everything. I don't know what his exit strategy is for this situation. He can trade one of the quarterbacks in the offseason. That would mean using the franchise tag on Vick and that brings along a whole new set of complications. What kind of value will Kolb have? Sitting for another year isn't likely to help his stock.

Starting Vick does make a lot of sense in the short term point of view, but it makes very little sense when taking in the big picture. That scares me because Reid has always done a great job of balancing the present and the future. He's always had the ability to keep the big picture in mind. That has helped the Eagles to remain good for so long. Has there been a fundamental change in the way the Eagles do thing? Is this just an anomaly because Vick is such a special quarterback? We truly are in uncharted waters right now. If Reid can get a good season out of Vick, get some snaps for Kolb, and then make a good move with one of them in the offseason, he will look like a genius. If not, he'll look like a gambler and probably not a very good one.