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Forgive Michael Vick if the veteran quarterback is soon at a complete loss as to what the notoriously mindless New York Jets truly expect from him.
Rex Ryan and his minions recruited the one-time Pro Bowl quarterback to Gang Green under the express understanding he would serve as a backup and mentor to second-year, franchise-in-the-making quarterback Geno Smith and in hopes his guiding hand would aid the former West Virginia star in a curbing a pattern that saw him throw nearly twice as many interceptions (21) as he did touchdowns as a rookie (12).
Throughout training camp, the Jets have stood by Smith, reinforcing their way of thinking by having him take roughly 80 percent of the first team practice snaps. In all his daily filibustering, Ryan has also all but anointed Smith his opening day starter, no matter what either one of his two quarterbacks show in practice or preseason games and even though Vick once starred in the offense coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is yet trying to impress upon the 23-year-old Smith on the fly.
And yet, the Jets now insist for the life of the coaching staff they can’t understand why Vick views and conducts himself as a backup. In truth, since arriving from Philadelphia, Vick has been the consummate pro, tirelessly working to impart his wisdom on Smith while making sure to tread just light enough as not to encroach upon the organization’s clearly already charted game plan.
But the Jets being the dysfunctional Jets that they are, all the thanks he gets are whispers about, well, why he hasn’t done more to rock the boat and sought to throw a monkey wrench in their plans more than he has. It’s almost as if the coaches are challenging Vick to prove he can be more of a disruptive force.
Michael Vick has been there, done that, telling SI.com “I’m at a very good place. Very relaxed. Things are more laid back right now as far as football, and off the field. No stress, no pressure. Even though, when you play football, there is always some sort of pressure. But at this stage of my career, I’m just trying to refresh and regroup and see where it takes me.”
One place Vick has promised himself he won’t be returning to is the time and place in his life where he found himself just five years ago, a juncture when he was sentenced to federal prison for bankrolling a wickedly violent and bloody interstate dogfighting ring. Vick served nearly two years in prison and arguably lost what could have been the best years of his still noteworthy career.
“The last five years I spent in Philly, I had some great years and played in some great games and went through a lot,” Vick said of his return to the game. “I would be sick if I had to retire tomorrow.”
Don’t read that to mean the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran hasn’t developed other passions or another mission in life. Soon after regaining his freedom, Vick began speaking to and mentoring at-risk kids on behalf of the Humane Society and through his Team Vick Foundation. Four years ago, he spoke on Capitol Hill in support of legislation promoting tougher penalties for those who brought children to watch dogfighting.
Before leaving Philadelphia, Vick also donated $200,000 presumably out of his own pocket to establish Team Vick Field in the Hunting Park neighborhood, where a neighborhood youth football team now hosts the games it has been able to in nearly 20-years.
With the Jets, Vick is now also one of the most popular and respected players in the locker room. He can only hope such standing translates into greater clarity about his role from Jets coaches.
Somewhere, you just feel Tim Tebow is watching, empathizing with and praying for Michael Vick.
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