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Insights: Sports

The top pick in this year's NFL draft, Michael Vick, carries the big burden of expectation
Dave Anderson
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, Sep/Oct 01

(continued from page 1)

"Not if I'm learning," he says. "If the season goes by and Coach Reeves feels that I still need to be sitting and learning, then I'm all for it. Then hopefully, I'll be out there when the time is right."

Vick, out of Newport News, Virginia, where his father worked in the shipyards, has sounded patient, saying, "I always stress that the most important thing you can do is listen to your parents and the people who are there to guide you. One big thing I would say to any child is, the key to success is listening." And listening to Reeves and quarterbacks coach/play-caller Jack Burns will help him adjust to what most NFL fans have no sense of -- the speed of the pro game: the speed of the pass rush, the speed of the defensive backs closing in on his receiver, the speed of the linebackers chasing him when he tries to run.

"He can learn the offense," Reeves says, "but it's being able to speak it in the speed of the game. It's like speaking a foreign language. If you've got to go to a country and speak that language, it's a whole lot different than taking a test and passing it."

With the Falcons realigned into the new National Football Conference South, beginning in 2002, twice each season Vick will be the target of such feared quarterback predators as The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Warren Sapp, Marcus Jones and Simeon Rice, as well as New Orleans' La'Roi Glover and Joe Johnson.

Being drafted by the Falcons gives Vick the opportunity to play home games on the Georgia Dome's artificial surface, which he believes "makes me a whole lot faster and my movements better." Then again, the Falcons, with only six playoff appearances since their formation in 1966, have a history of too many No. 1 draft choices that flopped, notably linebacker Aundray Bruce in 1988.

On the surface, Vick's stats in only two seasons at Virginia Tech were dazzling -- a 20-1 record as a starter (losing only to Florida State in the national championship game as a freshman), 3,074 passing yards and 1,202 rushing yards. But how valid were all those yards? The Hokies' schedule included Rutgers, Temple and James Madison. And pro football assessors have several other questions:

How accurate is Vick's arm? His 54 percent completion average in the 2000 season with the Hokies isn't that impressive. If his Falcons receivers aren't open, will he be too eager to try to run, as he did with the Hokies, and expose himself to injury? Even at 6 feet and 215 pounds, he may not be rugged enough to withstand the collisions.

How quickly will he absorb Reeves's complex offense? It eventually antagonized Elway.

How soon will Vick stop making rookie mistakes? In his first Falcons minicamp, he gobbled two barbecue sandwiches and munched potato chips, then was timed twice for 40 yards in a startling 4.3 seconds. Suddenly feeling queasy, he hurried to the locker room. He didn't throw up, but he no longer has barbecue sandwiches and potato chips before a workout.

Perhaps the most important question is, how quickly will Vick be accepted by the Falcons' veterans as their leader, as a quarterback must be?

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