By naming Michael Vick his starting quarterback, Andy Reid has made a bold and ingenious move. In effect, he took the heat that was reserved for his young quarterback, Kevin Kolb, and put it on someone who is more experienced and better prepared to handle it.
|By sitting Kevin Kolb, Andy Reid gives his quarterback of the future more time to grow. (US Presswire)|
Heck, he has coached pro football in Philadelphia for 12 seasons, so he knows about handling pressure, is inured to criticism and is an expert at surviving controversy. But I'm not so sure about a quarterback with three pro starts. What I do know is that Kolb's detractors were ready to shred the poor guy when and if he struggled after returning from a concussion, with the results compared to those of Michael Vick in his first two appearances.
Trust me, the call for Vick would have come with Kolb's first interception and/or first loss, and his role and future with the club would've been a weekly topic for consumption.
So Reid stepped in to protect that future. By reversing himself on his quarterbacks and naming Vick the Eagles' starter, he took the attention off Kolb and put it on himself. If the move fails and Vick stinks, it isn't the quarterback who gets hammered. It's the head coach, and Andy Reid is up to the task because ... well, because you have no choice when you coach in Philadelphia for 12 years.
"There are risks involved when you're in a leadership position," Reid told me at training camp, "and I've never been afraid of risks before. And I don't worry about them now."
Look, I don't know how much of a risk there is sticking with Michael Vick. What I do know is that the guy looked better the past two games than he has at any point of his career. He's still the playmaker he was when he entertained sold-out crowds in Atlanta, but he's more of a quarterback -- making smarter decisions and more accurate passes within the pocket -- and better than anyone with the Eagles organization imagined.
For that matter, he's better than anyone anywhere imagined. Check out this week's numbers, and you'll find Michael Vick is the league's fourth ranked quarterback -- with a rating of 105.5 that is higher than Drew Brees, higher than Tom Brady, higher than Matt Schaub and higher than Vick's career-best of 81.2 when he was with Atlanta.
So the Eagles stay with him because he's playing the quarterback position better than almost everyone out there.
But that's only part of the story. Kevin Kolb is the rest. When the Eagles decided to trade away Donovan McNabb in the offseason it wasn't because they believed in Michael Vick; it was because they believed in Kevin Kolb. And they still do. Kevin Kolb hasn't changed, but Michael Vick has -- and that was enough for Reid to make a decision that was so difficult and took so many hours of introspection he didn't make up his mind until 3 a.m. Tuesday.
In essence, what he did, he did for Kolb as well as for Vick. In Vick's case, the numbers speak for themselves. In 1½ games he looks like the quarterback who led the Falcons to the 2004 NFC Championship Game ... only better. With Kolb, Vick's numbers speak again. There is no way Kolb could've returned and not been held to an unfair standard, with each performance dissected and each loss held as proof that the team was better off with Vick.
So Reid launched a pre-emptive strike for the right reasons. First of all, Vick is hot. Second, if he fails, he can go to the bench and Kolb can return to the huddle and be allowed the time he needs to develop. But if Kolb were to fail now he would be benched, with his future in doubt and his confidence under siege.
Look how tough Eagles fans were on McNabb when he was there. Imagine what they'd do to his successor if he belly-flopped in place of Vick. Kevin Kolb is like most young quarterbacks: He needs time to grow. But he won't get it if he were thrust into the starting lineup in place of an experienced quarterback playing the best football of his life.
That Reid didn't name Kolb his starter is no reflection on the quarterback. Reid and the Eagles organization like Kolb and believe in him. In fact, one executive close to the club told me he thought Kolb was ready to start last season when he produced 300 yards passing in his only two starts.
But the Eagles waited until this season to give him the football, discarding McNabb to clear the path for Kolb and never anticipating that Vick could or would become a factor so quickly. But he did, and that will keep Kevin Kolb out of the line of fire for now and the foreseeable future.
The question, of course, is: What does this mean for Kolb's future? I'm not sure. I guess it depends on what Vick does. I'll be the first to admit I never expected Reid to change his mind about his quarterbacks after two weekends. But the more I think about this the more it makes sense. Reid has not abandoned Kolb. On the contrary, he has come to his rescue.
He likes Kolb, he believes in him and his trust and faith in him have not been shaken. In fact, that was his message when he met with Kolb Tuesday. But he believes in him so much he doesn't want the guy damaged if he struggled in his return.
Of course, it was always possible that Kevin Kolb could have played lights-out, too. But if he didn't -- if he had four, eight or 12 more quarters like the first two of the season -- the outcry would have been unbearable, with Kolb, his teammates and his head coach subjected to an onslaught of second-guessing and a tsunami of criticism. And for what? Because the coaching staff believes in Kevin Kolb?
It still does. But it is willing to wait on him and give him the time he deserves.
In the meantime, it sticks with Vick and saves the right moment for Kolb. That was supposed to be now, but by playing so effectively Michael Vick ruined the party. So the Eagles ... er, Andy Reid ... do the next best thing and ensure that if and when Kolb returns to the starting lineup he does it in the right environment -- with a city ready to welcome him back.
That is not now, and Andy Reid knows it.