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Vick makes most of second chance

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Michael Vick’s second chance at a pro football career forced him to make a decision that should’ve been an easy one, considering most players “want to be great” -- as the quarterback explained -- long before entering the NFL.

Yet Vick didn’t come to the conclusion that full immersion in every aspect of preparation was Step 1 towards greatness until “I finally got my second chance to come back and play,” he said. Philadelphia (7-3) certainly isn’t complaining about the eight-years-late epiphany, as it prepares to face Chicago on Sunday at Soldier Field with arguably the hottest quarterback in the league under center.

“It didn’t have anything to do with the [Atlanta] coaches [being enablers]. It was pretty much me,” Vick explained of his six years with the Falcons. “You have to have the desire to be great. Your coaches can only talk to you about it and inform you on things you can and can’t do. It’s up to you at the end of the day. Basically, I didn’t take advantage of the time that I had; the opportunities I had. I just had to start from ground zero.”

Since hitting the refresh button on his career after serving a 19-month prison sentence and sitting another season on the Eagles’ sideline as a backup, Vick took over as the starter this season and is playing the best football of his career. Vick owns the NFL’s highest passer rating (108.7), and he’s thrown 220 passes without an interception -- the longest streak of his career.

“He’s doing a nice job,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He has plenty of room to improve. We’re running the same plays that we did with [former starter] Donovan [McNabb], and Kevin [Kolb]. I said this before: they all kind of put their own personality on the plays. Michael has the escapability part of it.”

That’s obvious by looking at Vick’s 53.6-yard rushing average. In addition to being a candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, Vick currently leads the NFC in Pro Bowl voting. Vick attributes his turnaround to patience and the tutelage of Reid, Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach James Urban.

“It’s been great to be considered one of the best in the league right now. It’s an amazing accomplishment, not only to myself, but to all the people who helped me get here,” Vick said. “I’m going through my progressions, keeping my eyes downfield, staying balanced when I throw the football, and making good decisions with the football. They completely changed me as a quarterback fundamentally, [and taught me] things that help as a passer [to] make me into a complete quarterback. When you take it all, put it together and practice it -- you hear it every day -- and you go out and implement that into your game, you have no choice but to change as a player.”

Having played for Dan Reeves, Gregg Knapp and Jim Mora Jr. in Atlanta, Vick came to Philadelphia with a solid foundation, Reid said. But the coach said Vick’s new approach to preparation made the staff’s job easier when it attempted to break down the quarterback before building him back up to his present state.

“The thing he did was he took a little more mature attitude towards it, and the fundamentals, and then there’s Marty,” Reid said. “He’s our offensive coordinator, but he’s also a phenomenal quarterbacks coach. Whether it’s a right hander or a left hander, Marty can relate to you because of his experience with [Hall of Fame quarterback] Steve Young. Steve had mobility and was very accurate in this offense. Marty broke it down for him fundamentally. James Urban was kind of the foot soldier there. But it really comes down to the kid wanting to do it, and that’s what Michael wanted to do. He wanted to get better fundamentally.”

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said he could relate somewhat to the difficulties Vick may have faced in the preparation department, adding that as a player, “you don’t know” whether you’re ever adequately prepared to face a defense.

“Those first couple of years, you’re still trying to figure out the offense,” Cutler said. “He’s got Andy Reid over there, which is probably one of the better coaches in the league offensively. So he’s not going to let him go into a game unprepared [now].”

The same could be said about the Bears defense, which coach Lovie Smith said “will know where [Vick] is” and the club will “have a “plan that we feel pretty comfortable with” to defend him.

“We know that we’re playing one of the best offenses in the league and we’re anxious to see how we match up with them,” Smith said.

Vick, meanwhile, looks forward to facing Chicago’s defense, which he described as “one of the best, if not the best” in the league. Since his amazing turnaround, Vick says he’s been humbled by the compliments he’s received around the league from players who say they’re not surprised about how well the quarterback is playing.

“Win or lose, I felt I always made it a competitive game,” Vick said of his days in Atlanta. “I don’t think they’re shocked because I’ve always been able to make plays when needed in crunch time. I think they’ve just acknowledged that, and I think they have seen the potential. It’s great to get compliments from the guys around the league. I can’t say enough about it. I think it’s something we all can enjoy right now.”