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'Wildcat originator' gives Eagles ultimate option quarterback

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Ever since the Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick this past summer, there has been non-stop guessing about how, when and where he would be used. After all, this is quarterback Donovan McNabb's team.

This is familiar territory for Vick, who on Sunday will play in a regular-season NFL game for the first time since the final day of the 2006 calander year. Back then, the Atlanta Falcons were Vick's team, and there was non-stop guessing about how, when, where -- and if -- he would use his immeasurable skill set.

Brian Garfinkel / Associated Press
If Michael Vick is the Michael Vick of old, he could pose a lot of problems for the Chiefs on Sunday.

With Vick being away from the game while serving 20 months in prison on a federal dogfighting conviction, it's now a skill set that's as unpredictable as he is. As unpredictable as what we'll get from Vick or the Eagles on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs or the remainder of the season.

With McNabb recovering from a fractured rib and doubtful for Sunday, Vick is expected to play against the Chiefs after serving a two-game delayed entrance to the regular season. Kevin Kolb projects to start at quarterback but Vick likely will play after two weeks of practicing.

Only the Eagles know how and how much he will be used, which has already given them a leg up as they try to regain their traction after getting drilled at home last week by New Orleans. In the preseason, Vick was used in a few of Philadelphia's Wildcat formations and other packages. When he sat out the first two games, the gadgetry was expanded, although mostly when McNabb sat out against the Saints and Kolb was given his first NFL start.

"They threw more than the kitchen sink at us," Saints safety Darren Sharper said. "We got the whole kitchen, including all the food in the fridge. We looked at some Wildcat stuff but we didn't, we could prepare for what we got. It wasn't just the Wildcat but a lot of formations and personnel groupings. We saw the whole gamut of offensive strategies. They had people coming from all over the place. It's tough to get a bead on where the ball is."

And that was without Vick, who on Wednesday referred to himself as the "Wildcat originator." And with Vick?

"That would have made it a lot tougher," Sharper said. "He has the ability to run the ball like a running back but with his ability to throw, that changes everything. It's going to be interesting to see how much they use him and how they use him against Kansas City."

The Eagles had running back Brian Westbrook and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin take direct snaps against the Saints. They ran the ball eight times and threw once. If Vick lines up behind center, where he did for six seasons and three Pro Bowls with the Falcons, defenses will be much more on guard, Atlanta Coach Mike Smith said, not speaking directly about Vick but about players who present a pass-run option.

"When we were getting ready to play Miami, we were wondering how they were going to advance it because they have a quarterback in Pat White; they had someone who could run and throw the ball," said Smith, whose Falcons defeated that Dolphins 19-7 in Week 1. "Most of the Wildcat passes have been off reverses and throw-backs. Teams didn't have a guy who could truly stand back there and throw the ball.

"It creates a whole different type of dynamic. When the running back is back there taking the snap, you're defending the run and using personnel and schemes to stop the run. When there is a quarterback back there, you've got to make more decisions on how you're going to defend."

That could be playing mostly nickel packages, using three cornerbacks and a safety instead of two safeties; it could be playing coverages differently out of base sets; or possibly using a third, more athletic defensive end instead of the normal, lumbering tackle.

Regardless of the personnel grouping or scheme, Vick's ability to pass will prompt defensive backs and linebackers to potentially stay in coverage and not be aggressive approaching Vick near the line of scrimmage, giving the slippery runner space to operate should he pull it down. It was like that before with Vick when he was playing for the Falcons, and it was one of the most vexing elements of trying to defend him.

If Vick has regained any of the juice in his legs he once possessed and sharpened his erratic throwing accuracy a smidge (he's a career 54-percent passer) he could, faster than you can say "forgiveness," re-gain his luster as a marquee attraction in the NFL.

"As we saw before, Mike has the ability to play the Wildcat quarterback a whole game," Sharper said. "I don't know if they want to do that. I know this, if they have him in there with some of those packages and they start clicking on all cylinders, they could be more potent than what Miami is doing."

The excitement of Vick's potential could be difficult to temper, unless, in his first few plays on Sunday, he shows he's still harboring years of rust. If not, the rust he's shaken could evolve into a slippery slope.

What happens to the offense when McNabb comes back? The Eagles probably aren't going to remain Boise State since running a somewhat orthodox West Coast system has been successful for them for quite some time. So what will McNabb's return mean for Vick?

"I don't know if they'd run a lot of that with Donovan back there," Sharper said. "You'd expose him to injury too much. The quarterback or whatever you want to call it in the Wildcat is going to get hit. That's the detriment of that offense."

Vick, to his credit, has said he will do anything asked of him, that he understands McNabb is the starting quarterback and Kolb is the backup, and he doesn't want to disrupt that.

Vick also appears to be grateful simply to be back in the NFL. In the past few months, several people who know Vick well and who've seen him since he was released from prison say he is changed. He is far more sincere and serious about life. Being judged as a person was far more painful to him than being booed as a quarterback.

As a player, Vick was one of the most competitive people to step on a football field each Sunday. Despite all of his flashiness, blown plays, big runs and off-target passes, he always did everything in his power to make something out of nothing. Few people would argue during the time that the Falcons would have been as successful as they were without Vick's heroics outshining his flaws. His effort was often why coaches, teammates and other covered for his mistakes.

We will soon see if Vick is who he was, if he is something different and if his inclusion into the evolving Madden 2010-style offense Philadelphia is designing helps the Eagles win. It's the unknown of it all -- as it always has been for Vick -- that will make it worth taking note.

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