Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Michael Vick, Eagles humbled by last season, hungry for 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- A humbling 2011 is behind them. No one utters the term "Dream Team" anymore. Those Philadelphia Eagles have flown away, a circumstance the players welcome.

Yet the optimism that pervaded the team before last season is still around. After a minicamp experience that left the players brimming, positive feelings are coming on more than ever. Coach Andy Reid hasn't been shy about saying how much he likes the 2012 version, and he's not alone.

Most of the stars that showed such promise before it all turned to mush last September are back, and there are sparkling new additions like first-round defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Considering the velocity that quarterback Michael Vick showed firing the football Thursday, he's as strong as ever, too.

So how does one of the NFL's brashest teams remain even-keeled? They follow their leader. While Vick exited the NovaCare Complex and headed into the summer with a big smile, he noted, "It's going to be a football summer." The athletic lefty plans to use the time to bring himself back down to earth.

"I got my DVDs," Vick told NFL.com before he headed on vacation. "Whenever I have time, whenever I'm riding in a car or on the airplane, I'll make sure I pull it out and look at all the mistakes that I made."

No, not the good plays. Not any of the 18 touchdown passes or eye-popping runs. The mistakes. Any of his 14 interceptions, a career-high, will do. All to stay level-headed.

"I know how to do good," continued Vick, heading toward his third season as the Eagles starter. "It's just, sometimes you don't know how to do wrong. So, I'm just trying to limit my mistakes, just trying to get better each day."

During a dynamic 2010, finding mistakes was difficult. He led the Eagles to a 10-6 record with passer rating of 100.2 and solidified himself as a top MVP candidate any time he's healthy. And when the team acquired Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and others before 2011, backup Vince Young called them a "Dream Team."

It was more nightmarish in 2011. A 1-4 start and a 4-8 record on Dec. 1 meant a season without a playoff appearance.

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It also led to a thick-skinned reaction from the Eagles. They were forced to weather extraordinary criticism. Reid heard chants of "Fire Andy!" Pass rusher Brandon Graham openly declared himself a "bust" earlier in the offseason, a label he wants to out-grow.

That's why Vick isn't worried about the depressing act of watching his old gaffes.

"Nah, I want to learn from it," Vick said. "Sometimes it's good to come out and not have a perfect day. I would much rather come out here and make two or three mistakes on things that I didn't make mistakes on in the past. To learn from something new that I didn't know, it only helps."

The goal for Vick is to show up at training camp refreshed, renewed, humbled and ready to play smarter. Unlike before 2011, there is gravity to the optimism. It's not blind. In fact, they've seen plenty. Yet still, receiver DeSean Jackson couldn't resist opening up his crystal ball projecting that if the players show up to camp in shape, they can be "the last team standing."

"We just have to start fast and finish strong," said Jackson, who has a new five-year contract. "At the beginning of the season last year, we started off slow. As long as we come into the season starting fast, not having too many mistakes and playing together as a team, as one, I think the sky's the limit for this team. Not only during the beginning of the season, I think we have to carry it throughout the whole season and into the playoffs."

Reid spent the offseason on the hot seat, and it's not clear if it's cooled. It is clear that if the team plays up to its potential, Reid won't have to worry about the temperature of his chair.

No doubt, the expectations heading into last year spurred the feeling of despair when it fell apart. Players didn't want to look back, though, and you can't blame them. What they did want to discuss was how they can use the experience going forward.

"Coach Reid does a great job of keeping that on our minds, just motivating us and still pushing us as great coaches do," Jackson said. "We know training camp will be here as fast as possible. Right when we look up, it will be July 25th. We're ready for that."

Reid already is. One couldn't help but notice his exuberance all camp, and it was like that again Thursday. His team was 100 percent present for most of minicamp; 80 percent for conditioning. Reid lauded his players for grinding their way through, and he called Vick "fun to watch."

"I'm enjoying the personality of this team right now and I like how they've approached things," Reid said. "You have this good blend of veteran players who are upbeat and guys who are just hooting and hollering. Then, you have the energy of the youth. Then, you have a group of guys who are not afraid to work. When you're not afraid to work, you don't have a group of guys that are hanging heads, grabbing hamstrings, things like that."

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet

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