Vick begins getting life, career back in order

Today, Michael Vick(notes) begins the rest of his life.

That’s what friends and associates close to Vick have told Yahoo! Sports during the past few weeks, after spending time with the quarterback since his release from Leavenworth prison for his role in a dogfighting ring. The former NFL quarterback has spent the past two months in home confinement, where sources say he has been working in earnest to repair almost every phase of his life – re-establishing bonds with his family, mending fences with his community, and rebuilding his body in hopes of once again capturing a job in the NFL.

Photo Vick at home following his release from Leavenworth.
(Jason Hirschfeld/AP Photo)

“What has impressed me the most, Michael told me, ‘I’m ready to start the second half of my life and I won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made in the past,’ ” said Tom Shaw, considered by many to be the preeminent trainer in pro football. Shaw has known Vick since his days at Virginia Tech, and has spoken with him regularly since the quarterback was released from prison. “Nike, that whole [contract], he was making so much money. But he realizes that he made mistakes, and he’s ready to start the second half of his life. He’s not bitter. It’s not anything like that, where he’s saying, ‘Man, I can’t believe they did that to me.’ I think he’s accepted it. … He’s beyond humbled. You could not imagine the feeling that this guy has had.”

Vick has yet to speak publicly to the media, but he faces one of the steepest climbs imaginable in the coming days – both in public perception and in the world of pro football. With his estate in bankruptcy and his NFL career on indefinite hold, he is quietly awaiting judgment on whether he’ll be allowed to play in 2009.

Those who are close to him say that patience is purposeful. Vick, sentenced to 23 months of federal time, wants to avoid being viewed as brash or defiant in the shadow of his past mistakes – something previously scorned NFL players like Adam “Pacman” Jones failed to do. His silence comes in spite media reports that have speculated that Vick may have to change his position or play in another football league altogether before re-entering the NFL. However, associates say he’d rather let the masses debate his future than step out and say something that could be misconstrued by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

“He doesn’t want any media attention,” said a Vick confidant who has been close to the quarterback since he entered the NFL. “He doesn’t want anything to impact Roger Goodell’s thought process. If he says something and it’s in the media and Roger doesn’t like what he says, then that can impact the judgment. That’s a big thing with [Vick’s agent] Joel Segal and Michael – they don’t even want to talk about any of this stuff [about playing in 2009]. They want everything to be on the back burner.”

And for the most part, it has been. Vick has spent the past two months surrounded by family on a daily basis, while also working a construction job and then recently taking a position with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Hampton Roads. He also has been preparing for extensive work with The Humane Society of the United States, which is expected to commence in the coming days.

But his progress toward regaining a job as an NFL quarterback has been largely low key. He has been working with his former high school coach Tommy Reamon on getting his arm back into passing shape, while slowly fine-tuning the rest of his physique at his home in Hampton, Va.

A source close to the quarterback says Vick has gotten himself down to his playing weight through a wide array of workouts: light weight-training on a mini gym to build muscle endurance; conservative passing drills to begin the process of training his arm for the stress of throwing; and then one hour of hard running on a treadmill before he goes to bed at night. Eventually, Vick is expected to move on to a bounding and speed regimen to regain explosiveness, and then additional cardio to rebuild his long-term endurance. Only after that will Vick move on to heavy regimens of NFL specific drills.

It’s a patient process that is designed to retrain a body that hasn’t been part of weekly NFL workouts in more than two years. And while that layoff has led to a myriad of speculation about Vick’s future, many who are intimately involved with the position say it’s hardly an insurmountable absence, particularly for a player who turned 29 in June and is still in his athletic prime.

“[Coming back] is not that difficult mentally,” said Steve DeBerg, a 17-year NFL veteran who was out of football for four seasons before returning to play for the Atlanta Falcons in 1998. “The physical part is the hardest. The game is so quick. You have to be in top shape. You get away from it a little bit, it’s just a long way to get back. But you do have the advantages of understanding the game – the offenses and systems. There are not a lot of surprises with the defenses.

“He’s farther along mentally than he would have been coming in to the NFL, so he has that advantage. It’s not as big a learning curve as it is going from college to the NFL. Once you’ve got the mental part of [knowing you can play in the NFL], that’s huge. And his whole thing is that he’s a physical phenomenon. So it would be a lot easier for him than, for example, myself. It took a lot of work for me to do it.”

A sampling of NFL quarterbacks coaches say that Vick’s biggest hurdles will be regaining his timing, accuracy and absorbing the system of whatever team picks him up. After that, his limitations will depend on the accord he develops with wideouts. All said they believed Vick could return and play quarterback at the NFL level.

“You want to make sure from a skills standpoint that you’re where you were or better than where you were,” said Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson. “That’s the first thing. The second thing is the speed of the game. Just getting back used to the speed of the defensive backs, the speed of the defensive line, the rush – all the things that come flying at you play in and play out. And then it’s just the preparation. Because for three years, or two years, or whatever it’s been, you haven’t had to prepare. You haven’t had to be disciplined and sit in a video room. Those are the three things that are paramount.”

Vick would hardly be the first quarterback to navigate a layoff of a year or more. Beyond DeBerg, several others have been able to successfully continue their careers: from Chris Miller to Rich Gannon to most recently, Chris Redman(notes) in Atlanta. Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox was actually out of football for so long that he became an insurance salesman during his five-year layoff between 1995 and 2001.

“Some of the guys, when they do come back after they’ve had that year or two away, they’re invariably better than when they left,” said Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave. “They definitely have to get their timing and their rapport with their new set of teammates, but they may have been able to learn more from their mistakes in their previous life of playing.

“If you’re put on this earth to play quarterback at the elite level, you’ve kind of got it inherent to you. You’ve got to get back in shape physically, but being able to process information and be a leader, those are God-given talents that are inherent to guys playing at the elite level.”

Photo Shaw is working to get Vick back behind center.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo)

And Shaw says that his past experience training Vick suggests just that: that Vick has the God-given abilities to be a quarterback, and that given another opportunity in the NFL, he’ll do just that. To the point where when he hears speculation about Vick having to play at another position to be successful, he’s incredulous.

“Somebody paid this guy $100 million to be a quarterback,” Shaw said. “Now all of the sudden he sucks two years later? I don’t see it. … Michael Vick is a quarterback, without a doubt. I don’t think anybody [in the NFL] is talking about him going and playing wide receiver. This kid could shock the world when he comes out.

“Mike is still fast. Mike’s fast as lightning. That’s the thing. How much is he really going to drop? I think Michael Vick could have walked out of the penitentiary running a 4.4 [in the 40].”

But whether he gets to showcase that in the NFL again is another matter. With his self-asserted “second half” of his life just beginning, the next step is in Goodell’s hands. But regardless of the commissioner’s decision, most seem to agree that Vick is still a more than viable NFL quarterback. When he gets to fulfill that promise might just be a matter of waiting.

“This guy lost everything in his life,” Shaw said. “He understands that. He’s made some mistakes. He needs an opportunity. He needs a second chance.”

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jul 20, 2009