There were times this year when Michael Vick didn’t know if he would ever see an NFL field again, times he wondered if being on the sidelines with a clipboard would be the swan song for a career that revolutionized the quarterback position.
Vick is back now, however. Back not only on the field, but as a starting quarterback in the league. Vick came onto the field three weeks ago late in the first quarter to replace the struggling Geno Smith in a home loss to the Bills. Since then, he hasn’t looked back and the Jets are suddenly confident with their proven quarterback under center.
Vick was relegated very early on to being only a mentor to Smith. There was no quarterback competition in camp, despite the fact that Vick has a career resume with Pro Bowl appearances and playoff wins.
The Jets wanted Smith, their second round pick from last year, to be the starter. No matter that Vick looked better in offseason workouts or training camp, Smith was anointed the starter before the first snap of practice.
“I wasn’t sure if I would ever play or start again,” Vick told Metro. “I didn’t know if this was what the end of my career would be like. Nothing is certain in this game, nothing at all. And I didn’t know if this was the end of Michael Vick as a starter. I just knew I had to be ready, be prepared. Mentally, physically that if I was called upon, then I can go in and help my teammates, lift my teammates if need be.”
The scenario this past spring for Vick was not ideal, but he held his head high and never once grumbled. The Jets signed him with no intention of giving him a legitimate shot at the field. One team source said that from the day the Jets began to court him, “He was always going to be destined to carrying a clipboard and being a good role model for Geno . But all that changed obviously.”
What changed was the self-destruction of Smith, including a three-interception performance in Week 8 that led to his benching before the first quarter was even finished. Vick came in and moved the ball. He did it again the next week in a loss at the Chiefs. Then against the Steelers, Vick was tidy and efficient, with no turnovers, making several big plays via his arm and feet to key the Jets’ first win since opening day.
As the first pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, Vick sat behind Chris Chandler for much of his rookie season in Atlanta, having to earn his way onto the field as he watched, learned and got better in practice. The same scenario played out again in 2009 when after his prison term he sat behind Donovan McNabb with the Eagles, again needing to earn his way onto the field. But in both settings, Vick was behind an entrenched veteran starter.
Here in New York, he was automatically placed behind a second-year quarterback in Smith, whose major accomplishment was an 8-8 record the season before.
But Vick came in and never stirred the pot or grumbled. Even as Smith’s struggles began to snowball, he continued to be the perfect teammate, the ideal mentor.
“Everything in life prepares you for something else,” Vick said. “I only ever wanted to come in and do my part, be ready and help Geno , help Matt [Simms] and help the offense. This game, this team isn’t about me. It’s about being ready on Sunday to go out there and play and win.
“I [am] still a competitor, I still wanted to start and believed I could. I didn’t know if it would come this year with the way things were playing out. But I’m grateful for the opportunity. I wasn’t sure it would come again.”
Vick points to this moment as being a prime opportunity for Smith to sit and learn, watch, develop and grow. He went through the same process, and Smith, who assumed the starting job last year after Mark Sanchez went down with a shoulder injury in the third game of preseason, was rushed into a starting job he was never ready for.
Smith told Metro a week ago that he wants to take this opportunity to learn and hone his craft. He admits that he’s never been benched in his life, but Vick cautioned that Smith can make the most of this situation to truly round out his game by watching.
It is more than just a learning period for Vick now. In two starts under Vick, the Jets’ offense has showed signs of improvement. There have been no turnovers during this time and the play-calling, while a bit bland at times, has been calm and steady with a quarterback in the pocket who hasn’t shown any signs of being rattled by the situation. Vick has showed a big arm, witness his 67-yard bomb to T.J. Graham in the first quarter of the win over the Steelers. Then in other moments he has dazzled with his feet and ability to extend plays with a sixth sense for the pass rush.
He says that there is still a lot to play for this season, even with the Jets at 2-8 and with their playoff prospects all but vanished. For starters, he might be playing for a new contract next year as a starter.
“I like the guys, I like this locker room,” Vick said. “Right now, I’m really enjoying my time in New York and I’m looking forward to winning some games with this team.”