Rejuvenated Vick is inimitable

PHILADELPHIA — Michael Vick is no big deal with the Redskins.

He's 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, to be exact.

That's the size of smoking-fast Redskins rookie Brandon Banks, a practice-squad wide receiver who this past week was assigned to emulate the Eagles quarterback in advance of Sunday's game.

Opposing teams will do just about anything to simulate the challenge presented by Vick, who has thrown six touchdown passes and run 23 times for an average of 7.4 yards a carry.

Is it possible to recreate how the Eagles star can beat a defense?

"You can't, because Vick is Vick," said Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has caught four of those touchdowns. "I guess they're trying to do that because of the similar speed, and Brandon Banks can really run. But at the end of the day, you can't really imitate him."

In his rollicking rebirth, Vick has established himself as football's most dangerous double threat, a difference-maker who has lifted the Eagles (2-1) from a franchise in a rebuilding phase to the early leader in the NFC East.

He is the No. 2 storyline of this game, though, with the first being the return of longtime Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, traded to the Redskins in April.

But Vick and McNabb have been linked for the last 15 years, ever since McNabb played host on Vick's recruiting visit to Syracuse.

It was also McNabb who suggested the Eagles sign Vick after the shamed former Falcons star was released from prison, having served his time for his role in a dogfighting operation.

"Donovan was very instrumental in bringing me here," Vick said. "He put in a good word for me and it happened. I was thankful for it, and they gave me an opportunity when nobody believed in me. He was a part of that. I'll never forget that."

There's a significant segment of the population that will never forgive Vick for his horrific cruelty to those dogs. The Eagles and the vast majority of their fans have embraced him.

"Michael's a human being; he's a man," McNabb said. "The one thing I wanted to do was to give him an opportunity, give a guy a second chance. So many people turned their back on him and talked about the negative side."

To hear Vick and his coaches tell it, he's a reborn player with a work ethic he didn't have earlier in his career. There's no denying that he's a more complete and well-rounded player, at least through 10 quarters. He has, for instance, completed 60.7 percent of his passes (54 of 89), whereas in 2006, his final season with the Falcons, he completed 52.6 percent (204 of 388).

"I always knew I could play better than what I did," Vick said. "All I had to do was work at it and get in the right system and just play my game. Play efficiently, and be smart with the football, and just be given the opportunity. I always knew I could do it."

One of three starting quarterbacks who have yet to have a pass intercepted, Vick has a passer rating of 110.2, second in the league to Peyton Manning's 116.9. (The Jets' Mark Sanchez is the third without an interception, at 104.9.)

It's still very early, and things could go haywire, but Vick seems much more careful and accurate than he was with the Falcons, where in his last three seasons he had 19, 18 and 16 turnovers.

Because of his astounding athleticism, Vick might have glossed over some of the fundamentals of being a quarterback when he was a younger player. Eagles coach Andy Reid said Vick has gotten back to basics.

"If you move three feet to the left in the pocket, or three feet to the right, you still want, in his case, your right shoulder in the same position, your knees bent the right way, and you want to be able to step into the throw, and so on," Reid said.

"He's worked very hard on that, all the way from the feet to the arms and the shoulders. And what that does is that increases your accuracy and consistency."

Vick replaced Kevin Kolb — groomed for three years to eventually take over for McNabb — after Kolb suffered a concussion in the first half of the opener.

By all public indications, the Eagles labored over the subsequent decision to make Vick the permanent starter.

Not everyone buys that the Eagles were tormented about making the switch.

"I pretty much know that's what they wanted anyway," Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "I think they sugarcoated it. It came across my mind as soon as they signed (Vick), that's for sure."

No matter how Vick wound up with the job, he has it now. So for the Redskins this week, the task of imitating him falls to Banks, who has been timed in the 4.2-second range in the 40-yard dash. (In other situations this week, Banks has been a stand-in for Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson.)

"Who hasn't admired Michael Vick?" Banks said. "That guy's a big-time playmaker."

Banks should know. He had a poster of Vick on his bedroom wall as a kid, and — here's a secret Banks won't reveal to the defensive linemen chasing him this week — he has yet to take it down.

sfarmer@tribune.com

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