PHILADELPHIA -- This is it. This is Michael Vick's last shot.
Vick knows it, even if he won't admit it. He knows that the man to whom he owes everything, Andy Reid, is gone, replaced by a coach, Chip Kelly, who owes him nothing.
Vick is guaranteed only an opportunity to compete for the Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback job he has held for the better part of the past three seasons. He has a chance, just like Nick Foles, whom Kelly also inherited, and Dennis Dixon and Matt Barkley, whom Kelly chose. Vick must compete, and as it stands now, there is no depth chart, no front-runner and no favorite.
The job would seem to be Vick's to lose, but who knows what the unconventional Kelly, who has said at this point that he has "a seating chart" and nothing more, is thinking? Vick is the superior arm talent. He has the experience. He is more mobile, better able to create a play with his feet, more qualified to run the read option, if Kelly so chooses. Vick is a veteran. He understands the game. He is still a playmaker.
But look at the evidence from the past two seasons. Vick has thrown 24 interceptions and put the ball on the ground 21 times. He's completed only 59 percent of his passes, and he's been sacked 51 times. Those aren't Mark Sanchez numbers, but they're not good, either, which is why there is a competition in the first place.
Last season, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg started the season by giving Vick more pre-snap responsibilities but got to the point that they had to limit his reads and checks. He freelanced often. With a decimated offensive line, Vick had shaky protection and frequently took off running, trying to make a play for a team that had few players who did. That led to bad habits and injuries, which limited Vick to just 10 starts. At the end of the season, when Vick was healthy, Reid chose to ride out his remaining games with the team with Foles. It was a mercy benching.
So this is it for Vick. This is his last shot. Vick has organized team activities and minicamps and training camp to prove to Kelly that he can run his up-tempo offense, master the crazy hand signals being sent in from the sideline, practice through the distractions of blaring music, and make checks and read the defense while still moving the chains. Three and out won't cut it.
Four months. That's it.
"He realizes that it's up to him if he wants to play," Eagles veteran offensive lineman Todd Herremans said.
The Eagles had their first full-squad practice Monday -- voluntary as it was -- and everything was so new and different from the way it had been the previous 14 years that only the wings on the players' helmets were recognizable. Kelly's two-hour practice included 21 periods that were anywhere from three to five minutes each. An automated voice instructed what each period would focus on, be it short yardage or third down or a period to "teach." The musical selection spanned four decades and several genres, and included Nicki Minaj, Duran Duran, the Scorpions, Kanye West, Foo Fighters and The Wanted.
Early in the proceedings, all five Eagles quarterbacks -- G.J. Kinne is the fifth, for those keeping track -- lined up side by side, dropped back and fired passes to five receivers running routes. All the receivers knew was what route they were supposed to run, not who was throwing to them. Kelly had said he would spread the reps around, and he wasn't kidding.
But there was a clear structure in other drills. Vick got the first crack with the first-team offense. Foles got the second. Dixon and Barkley were throwing to second- and third-team receivers.
Afterward, Kelly estimated Vick and Foles evenly split the reps with the 1s and will continue to do so, and Foles said it was possible Kelly wouldn't make a decision on who will be his Week 1 starter until Week 1.
"Hey, with Chip, anything's possible," Foles said. "I think y'all know that."
Which is why Vick must be worried, even if he would never, ever say it. Vick believes he still is a starter in the National Football League, still possesses the speed and the accuracy to be effective, even if the results of the past two seasons suggest otherwise. Vick plays as if he thinks he is invincible.
"In my mind and my heart, I'll always feel like I'm a starter in this league until the day I can't run anymore, I can't throw anymore," Vick said, holding a smoothie, another Kelly directive, in his hands. "But the mindset you have to have is you're going to be the No. 1 guy, and that's the approach you have to have, and that's the way I feel. I'm going to continue to keep working. We're going to keep pushing each other, keep competing [and] keep competing with ourselves most importantly. I try to go out and get the most out of the game, but I compete more with myself than anyone else out there."
Last week, Barkley said he wants to be the starter this season. On Monday, Foles said his goal is to be the starter. Vick didn't have to say it. Everyone knows.
"For any quarterback to be the starter for this football team, you've got to be consistent," Vick said. "You've got to make good decisions, and you've got to be confident, and you've got to be a team leader. We've got that, so we're just trying to get the most out of each and every quarterback. I know Coach Kelly is, and that's the way he's going to coach us."
We've got that, as in he's got that.
Vick must prove it. He must prove that, even though he will turn 33 next month, he still has the speed and mobility to run away from defenders. He must prove his arm can be as accurate as it is strong. He must prove he can read and react at the pace Kelly demands. And he must prove he can lead a team that quit on its previous coach.
If Vick can't do all that, if he loses the starting job he has held for most of the past three seasons, he probably will have lost the opportunity to be an NFL starter for good. Two bad seasons and another benching to a less experienced player would see to it.