Just because Michael Vick was most effective at quarterback when he was on the move doesn't mean his place in the NFL, if there is one, will be dictated by a team willing to rewrite its playbook to accommodate his skills.
"If you have a guy who has been in the league, he's probably had to learn a few different systems and schemes so there are plenty of things he can probably do," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "You just try and take what he's done well and incorporate some of those things into what you do."
Vick, who is serving out the final two months of a 23-month jail term for dogfighting under home confinement in Virginia, must be reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before he can ever play in the league again. He must then find a team that is willing to acquire him after his ties are officially severed with the Atlanta Falcons, who hold his rights and for whom he played from 2001-2006.
A potential road block, among several, is that Vick's skills and stature (6-0, 215) might not make him appealing to a team that likes to utilize their quarterback mostly from the pocket and not as a running threat. While that could have some credence, there are coaches who said Vick could fit in just about any team's system -- with some adjustments.
"In our case, we do what we've done and we use the same playbook, but to me, it's a matter of what you emphasize and what you feel, as a whole, your offense can do -- not just the quarterback," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said, not speaking specifically of Vick. "If you've got a real mobile guy, you emphasize movement a little bit more and give him the opportunity to get on the move.
"If you've got a guy who is an accurate short passer but doesn't have the arm strength to go deep, you emphasize more of the West Coast-type stuff, with high percentage passes. It's not like you have to put in a whole new playbook."
There is a reason some coaches succeed and others fail and a lot of that deals with how they best use their talent. If coaches can find a way to put players in areas of strength, then they tend to succeed.
Vick spent his last three seasons in the NFL running a hybrid West Coast scheme under then-Falcons coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, both of whom have the same roles with Seattle now.
The emphasis was zone blocking up front with a one-cut run game -- a heavy dose of off-tackle stretch plays were called -- that extended the career of veteran tailback Warrick Dunn, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for three consecutive seasons (2004-06). The heavy dose of running led to a play-action game that allowed Vick the option to run or pass, typically on bootleg roll-outs. Most of his passes where thrown in the intermediate range to tight end Alge Crumpler and aside from 2002, his touchdown-to-interception ratio never came close to 2-to-1.
In his first three seasons under then-coach Dan Reeves, Vick, while a major running threat, played in more of a traditional system that let him unleash his big arm with more deep throws. Though he was never an accurate passer, in 2002, his one full season under Reeves, Vick averaged nearly 200 passing yards per game, threw 16 touchdowns to eight interceptions and had 44 passes of more than 20-plus yards.
It's hard to argue which offense suited Vick and the Falcons better, but Atlanta did go to the NFC Championship game in 2004 with Vick playing under Mora. While the offense was catered to Vick's abilities -- Mora routinely stressed how it would weaken the team to try to keep Vick in the pocket -- it is an offense Mora and Knapp like to run and not just because of Vick.
Mora will incorporate the same base offensive system in Seattle this season, but quarterback Matt Hasselbeck might opt to throw more than Vick when given the option. When current Texans-then-Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub would step in for Vick, little changed with the scheme, even the bootleg plays, at which Schaub proved adept.
It's not necessarily the offense or the quarterback, but the fusion of both.
"First off, you don't sign a quarterback if you don't think he can fit," Cameron said. "Teams will watch plenty of tape (on Vick) and decide if he can work. If they sign him, then they think he can learn what they do."
The difference with Vick, though, is he hasn't played in two seasons. Is he still as electrifyingly fast and deceptive as he was in 2006, when he threw for 2,474 yards and rushed for 1,039? If not, then he will have to change his game, which could fit more into a traditional style of offense -- if he can do it. If Vick resembles who he was then he could give teams a new option in the Wildcat offense or as a mobile quarterback whose evasiveness as a runner could compensate for a lackluster offensive line.
A key to figuring out Vick and what he could bring to an offense is the timing of his return. Should his suspension be lifted and a team signs him (most likely as a backup) well into training camp or even into the 2009 season, then he can learn the scheme as a reserve, maybe as the No. 3 quarterback, without an inordinate amount of pressure to put him in the game. If he is with a team early enough to start training camp, which seems like it might be a stretch, then he could have even more time to get up to speed, even though he will have missed out on a summer of OTAs and minicamps.
Even so, Vick is not expected to be a big factor this season except in a Wildcat-type role or unless injuries to other quarterbacks force him into action. Again, he has to be reinstated first and foremost.
Once Vick gets re-acclimated, he could then enter next offseason in position to compete for a larger role, maybe even that of a starter. From there, his knowledge of a playbook can expand with reps and time.
"We're not going to ask any quarterback on game day to do what he can't do," Cameron said. "We may in the offseason. In the offseason we'll ask him to do everything and find out what his limits are. Once the season starts, we'll do what he does best."
"Just like we did when Kyle Orton became the starter for Rex (Grossman), we did certain things that we felt he did well and adjusted to his strengths. Rex did certain things better than others and when Kyle took over (we) tweaked it. It will be the same thing with Jay. I've been able to go back and look what he did at Denver and see what he did. We aren't going to change a lot of what we do but after seeing what he does well, I know that play-action is something we can do more."
That type of adjusting takes place on every roster because the starter and backup tend to be different types of players.
Vince Young is far more mobile than Tennessee starter Kerry Collins, so different plays are incorporated in case he has to step in for Collins. Smallish, scrambling Jeff Garcia is a completely different type of quarterback than massive starter JaMarcus Russell, whose pocket presence is far more stationary and whose best asset is being able to rifle balls deep downfield.
"Ideally," Turner said, "you'd like to have similar guys on the roster at starter and backup (quarterback) but that's not always the case."
Cameron stated: "What I have done is looked at all the tape of what a quarterback can do. When I coached at Indiana, I looked at all the high school tape of Antwaan Randle El. We put in 20 plays he ran in high school when he first came and he never had to run a play he didn't know for a month and then we evolved with our offense. I did the same thing with Philip Rivers when we were in San Diego. All I did was call the plays he did at N.C. State for a month and sprinkled in our offense as we went along.
While there is talk that Vick could be used as a running back or a wide receiver, the prevailing thought is that if he gets back in the NFL, he will be given every opportunity to show that he can still play quarterback. From there, it will be up to the coaching staff he lands with to see how he fits in. A team may play a certain style today, but that doesn't mean that will be the style it plays tomorrow, which is why there might be a place for Michael Vick.