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Vick must capitalize on starting job for Eagles, himself

Wow. Eagles Coach Andy Reid just did a dazzling Michael Vick impersonation the way he changed direction.

For months, we were told Donovan McNabb was traded within the division to Washington because it was time to introduce the world to Kevin Kolb. By naming Vick the starting quarterback over Kolb on Tuesday in a surprise about-face, it now seems that getting rid of McNabb was more about getting rid of McNabb.

Is this the right move?

Eagles coach Andy Reid shocked the NFL world Tuesday when he said Michael Vick would be his QB, leading some to wonder why the decision was made. **More ...**

The Eagles took a risk by moving McNabb, so whatever came afterwards was a gamble. Reid is playing his safest hand by rolling with Vick, who almost rallied the Eagles to a season-opening victory over Green Bay after Kolb was knocked out with a concussion. Vick followed that performance with a strong outing in a win over Detroit last weekend., throwing for 284 yards and two touchdowns.

Vick looked poised, fast and, as a passer, accurate. He also looked like the best guy for the job.

"Michael Vick is playing out of his mind right now and that's a beautiful thing," Reid said. "He's playing exceptional football right now. I think that's obvious to everybody."

Well, it wasn't obvious after Vick just played that "exceptional football" against the Lions because Reid and the organization said Kolb would get his job back once healthy. He was anointed the starter in the offseason and was going to get every opportunity to retain his job, right?

After Vick's six quarters of football this season, sides were split as to what the Eagles should do. As folks are finding out, albeit no fault of his own, Vick is a polarizing figure. He simply plays his game the way he plays it and carries himself the way he carries himself. People take sides. There's very little gray area.

I live in Atlanta. I covered Vick. I watched him lead the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game against, ironically, McNabb and the Eagles in 2005. I watched people fawn over his every move. I listened to people criticize everything he did. I saw a city, seriously, divided and full of hate when he admitted to dogfighting charges in 2007. Some loved him regardless. Others, to this day, can't stand the mention of his name.

Mark my words. There are going to be some people claiming Reid has made the wrong decision because Vick will devolve and make mistakes, all the while, jamming up Kolb's growth. There will be others who trumpet the decision because Vick paid his dues, earned another shot, is more experienced, and is simply a better quarterback.

One thing Reid acknowledged -- correctly -- is that Vick gives the Eagles the best chance to win right now. You think Reid isn't looking at the NFC East and seeing a grand opportunity to win the division? Dallas is struggling; the Giants are enigmatic; and the Redskins are in flux. The Eagles, although injured in some areas and somewhat uncertain along the offensive line, might be the best team in the division.

So why not go with the hot quarterback? Wasn't that the cry from coaches all weekend when they changed from Jason Campbell to Bruce Gradkowski (in Oakland) or Matt Moore to Jimmy Clausen (in Carolina) or Vince Young to Kerry Collins (in Tennessee)? That's what Reid decided. He said it was his call, much like he carried the loudest voice when it came to signing Vick as a free agent after he served most of his 23-months in prison for dogfighting.

Ironic how then, McNabb was Vick's biggest advocate in bringing him to the Eagles. By all accounts, they'll square off in two weeks when Philadelphia plays Washington.

When Vick was signed to a two-year deal, the opportunity to get back into the NFL didn't seem much like an opportunity to be a starter again. He was a pariah to so many and, once he stepped on the field, he looked slow and not like what he once was. Several NFL personnel people told me this offseason that Vick was no more than a backup and that their teams wouldn't touch him because he wasn't going to help much.

Now that some of those teams have to play against him, we'll see what they think of him now.

We don't know if Vick can remain this effective, poised and good for 14 more games. He might end up like the backup point guard who can step in for a half, or even a game or two before opponents figure out ways to get him off track. We'll also see how long his talented crew of receivers is kept happy.

While Reid championed Vick's 105.5 passer rating and accuracy, completing 63.8 percent of his pass attempts, Vick has never been an overly accurate passer. He also, as we know, likes to run the ball, turning his receivers into downfield blockers. In Atlanta, while a lot of his teammates liked him, they didn't always dig his style, which cost them catches, stats and too many toe-to-toe rumbles trying to wrangle with cornerbacks.

We also have to see if Vick really has matured as much as he seems to have these past few weeks. Don't forget, it wasn't long ago he held a birthday party and gunshots were fired and people were shaking their heads about Vick's judgment seeming to be stuck at questionable -- at best.

More than ever, Vick knows what's at stake. If he blows this, he's going to be viewed as a backup forever. If he steps out of line off the field, he's going to be too much of a liability. If he remains a solid citizen and continues to play "out of his mind," Vick will become this year's feel-good story.

No star athlete other than Tiger Woods took a bigger fall from grace than Vick. No athlete may have a chance to make a bigger climb than Vick.

And here's the kicker to all this: Vick is a free agent after the season. If Vick plays well and gets the Eagles to the playoffs, there will be a lot of teams willing to pay him some of the millions he lost during his time behind bars. Philadelphia might have to pony up or end up facing him.

With Kolb as their quarterback.

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