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Old 09-23-2009, 11:03 PM  
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Babb: Eagles’ Maclin glad that Vick is getting back on the field

Eagles’ Maclin glad that Vick is getting back on the field
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star

Jeremy Maclin can still see the play in his mind. The speed, the grace, the dominance. It was a classic NFL moment, the time the quarterback outran a team’s entire defense.

“Informants have come forward saying they can link Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to dog fighting.” — The Associated Press, May 31, 2007

The Philadelphia Eagles’ rookie remembers it so vividly. It was 2002. Maclin was 14 years old then, a young football player whose skills would fit into the NFL’s future. The man on the television helped make it that way. A league once ruled by size and power was being redefined by unpredictable speed.

“In pleading guilty, one of the most exciting and polarizing figures in the NFL faces prison, fines and a lengthy league suspension.” — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 21, 2007

The video is grainy now, but Maclin’s memory remains sharp. This is the play he remembers: The quarterback takes the snap at Minnesota’s 47-yard line, drops and runs toward an opening at his left. He runs past the first wave of Vikings defenders, toward another opening. They’re all chasing him. At the 20, linebacker Greg Biekert and safety Corey Chavous are approaching from opposite sides.

“Michael Vick was sentenced Monday to a tougher-than-expected 23-month prison term after prosecutors revealed that he admitted to hanging two dogs as part of an illegal dogfighting ring.” — The Washington Post, Dec. 11, 2007

Michael Vick hits another gear as he reaches the remaining defenders. Biekert and Chavous lunge toward Vick, who somehow slides between them. Biekert and Chavous collide, and Vick strolls into the end zone for an overtime victory.

So many years later, as memories have been reshaped and trust has withered in one of America’s great athletes, that long touchdown is the image that plays out in Maclin’s mind.

“I knew then that he was something special,” the former Missouri star says now, months after he was drafted by the Eagles, who liked that the youngster possesses the same stunning speed and agility that Vick made famous.

Four months after the Eagles drafted Maclin, they signed Vick. Now, Vick is on the verge of returning to a league he helped reshape with plays such as the one Maclin, 21, remembers.

“Every day I wake up and marvel that I have this chance,” Vick said Wednesday. “The hard part is over with. Now it’s time to play football.”

Maclin says now that he’s ignoring Vick’s crimes, instead hoping his new teammate looks something like his old self Sunday when the latest of his punishment expires, an NFL suspension that followed his nearly two-year prison term. Vick is eligible to play in a regular-season game for the first time since December 2006. As fate would have it, the man who spent 17 months in a prison 35 miles from Kansas City will now return to the NFL against the Chiefs.

“He knows that he’s blessed to have a second chance,” Maclin says. “That’s his demeanor and his determination: to get back to the point where he used to be.”

It hasn’t been easy. Vick’s return will surely not come and go quietly. Animal-rights demonstrators are coiled and ready, and the nation will turn toward Philadelphia this weekend to see what plays out next. Vick is only beginning the long journey toward redemption, if it’s even possible, but his first step was working his body back into NFL shape.

Eagles coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that Vick, 29, was overweight when he joined the team last month. Reid admitted that Vick needed every day of his two-game suspension. Reid says Vick was tired after a brief appearance in a preseason game, but there was something familiar when Vick carried the ball.

“You could see that he is a very talented football player,” Reid says.

Reid wouldn’t say Wednesday whether Vick will play Sunday against the Chiefs. But Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is injured, and because of that, the team is short on weapons. Not that Philadelphia minds that Kansas City is burning preparation time with Vick in mind.

When he played for the Falcons, other teams’ coaches knew that he would at least start a play as the quarterback. As difficult as it was for defenses to stop him, planning for it was simplified in some ways because Vick usually lined up at the same place.

Now the Eagles are experimenting with the trendy wildcat offense, in which quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs can line up at several spots and run many combinations of plays. Reid says that if Vick plays Sunday, he’ll be listed as a quarterback — although he doesn’t have to necessarily play that position. Regardless of where he lines up, the Chiefs are preparing for the new Vick with the old Vick in mind.

“There were a lot of times down there in Atlanta,” Chiefs coach Todd Haley says, “where I was holding my breath when he was holding the football. That’s what I remember: the fear factor.”

Vick would improvise, transforming broken plays into big plays. Reid says Vick was the first wildcat quarterback, a hybrid among several positions.

Vick boasted Wednesday that he was the “originator” of the offensive philosophy. If nothing else, he ushered in an emphasis on speed and versatility that helped shape today’s football landscape. Playing against Vick meant preparing for anything, and teams drafted speedy defenders with that in mind.

Safeties were moved to linebacker, and linebackers shifted to defensive end — moves that proved that teams were acknowledging they could no longer afford to have their defenders plowing into each other in pursuit of a quicker player. As Vick changed the NFL with a new kind of speed, teams had to adjust the old way if they were to slow him and the players who were to follow.

Like Vick, other offensive players no longer had to be confined to a single position or traditional skill set because their speed created problems for defenses — and more problems if they could move around within an offense.

Vick’s success influenced teams to load up on speedy and multidimensional players, such as Miami’s Ronnie Brown, Oakland’s Darren McFadden and, yes, Philadelphia’s Maclin. If Maclin’s 198-pound frame might have held him back in the past from being a top pick, it didn’t in 2009 because to win in 2009 requires versatility and surprise. Maclin is a wide receiver, sure, but can he also play running back? Or even line up during practices at quarterback?

“I guess we’ll see,” he says. “Only time will tell. That’s our secret. I’m not sitting up here saying I have; I’m not sitting up here saying I haven’t.”

Maclin says that possibility is a weapon the Eagles possess, and so is the possibility that Vick still possesses enough of his old skills.

“You can’t just be one-dimensional,” Vick told reporters in Philadelphia.

That’s the philosophy that made Vick one of football’s unique talents and the thing that made it so hard to believe when football stopped being the thing he was best known for.

For now, Maclin says that Vick’s plays — and how he shaped the league — are what he remembers. But forgetting the past sometimes means ignoring the good and bad, and Maclin says he’s willing to do that. Especially when the only words that matter, Maclin says, are ones such as these:

“Vick is eligible to play.” — The Associated Press, Sept. 23, 2009

“I think he’s more focused ever since he got here,” Maclin said. “Now he’s in the game plan.

“He’s going to be all right. He was a pro quarterback before the incident happened, and he’s a pro quarterback coming out of this incident. Everybody deserves a second chance, and he has his. And hopefully he makes the most out of it.”
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