Vick develops under Mornhinweg's tutelage

Les Carpenter

PHILADELPHIA – Late in the summer of 2009, the man who would remake Michael Vick(notes) stood before him with a single question:

What do you want out of this? asked Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

"I want to be the best quarterback I can," Vick replied.

The story this autumn has been Michael Vick and how he went from prison to a sure Pro Bowler in 17 months. He is nothing now like the player who left the Atlanta Falcons following the 2006 season. He is mature, precise and efficient; the league's most-feared offensive player to many defenders.

Vick, who's guided the Eagles (10-4) to the NFC East crown, didn't reach this point alone. In his 25 years of coaching, Mornhinweg has been in charge of developing Steve Young, Brett Favre(notes) and Jeff Garcia(notes). But his best work might be the rebuilding of Vick, whom he has overhauled from a gifted but erratic passer and runner before prison into the quarterback who leads the NFC with a 103.6 passer rating.

"He is definitely a mentor for me, a confidant and a friend," Vick told Yahoo! Sports.

For years Mornhinweg, who was the coach of the Detroit Lions in 2001 and 2002, watched Vick from afar. He saw how Vick flew across the field, dancing around defenders, firing passes through the smallest of openings. He thought of Vick as a great talent but as something of a quarterback expert – trained in high school by Mike Holmgren – he recognized a player who could be something more.

So when Eagles coach Andy Reid first approached Mornhinweg with the idea of signing Vick in the summer of 2009, Mornhinweg was thrilled at the possibility.

"I wanted him to learn the quarterback position from ground up," Mornhinweg said as he sat in an office at the Eagles practice facility last week. "Because with his skill and ability, if he could become an expert at the quarterback position and play the position at a high level – rather than just playing quarterback and letting his ability take over – then allow his natural ability to take over, I think there's a good possibility that he's a special player."

The overhaul began when Vick arrived in the middle of that August. Immediately Mornhinweg set about to do two things: Make him a more accurate, efficient passer and rebuild his endurance. During his 19 months in prison, Vick stayed in condition but not football shape. He didn't come to the Eagles with the same burst of speed he once possessed. Mornhinweg designed a series of workouts to address these issues.

Before and after every practice, Mornhinweg and assistants James Urban and Doug Pederson, ran Vick through a unique series of running and passing drills that lasted 20-30 minutes.

"There was a sort of a program and it was on paper," Mornhinweg said. "It was a step-by-step program so he understands how much hard work is involved in playing the quarterback position.

"He's taken that and run with it."

They set up a net with a small hole in the middle through which Vick had to throw the ball. Then they asked him to do running exercises followed by passing drills. For example, they might instruct Vick to run around a line of street cones laid out on the field, after which he stutter-stepped, faked an imaginary defender, raced back to his starting point and threw 5-10 passes into the net off a five-step drop pretending he was firing quick slants to the left.

After a 30-second break, they were on the next drill – maybe one in which Vick ran around a line of tackling dummies, stop and do a seven-step drop, hitch and throw a dig five times.

They went on until the exercises were done. In every drill, Vick had a football in his hand.

"A lot of it had to do with ball security," Mornhinweg said. "[Have him] make a move on a defender and then right back throwing. We wanted him to manage the conditioning and the basic fundamentals of quarterback play when fatigued."

The drills, which numbered well into the 20s, changed each session giving Vick a new challenge each day.

"Oh man it was hard," Vick said. "But he was just trying to get me back into shape."

It is important to remember, Mornhinweg said, that Vick did this while still practicing with the team in between workouts, running special Wildcat plays Monhinweg and Reid drew up for the offense and splitting scout team quarterback duties with Kolb, who was the No. 2 quarterback behind Donovan McNabb(notes).

"Mike [learned] quick," Mornhinweg said. "Garcia did it really quick and Garcia and I studied a lot. I really think [players who have] smart, natural instinct, gut instinct – you have to have all of those to [learn] real quick. I think for Garcia all that pro experience in Canada helped. It counts. There's no substitute for experience. Mike had it in Atlanta. It was a much different style of offense. But he's a natural decision-maker and you have to work on his accuracy and timing in [the Eagles'] system."

By the end of last season Mornhinweg could see significant improvement. Not only was Vick throwing carefully yet forcefully in practice, but he also regained much of his speed until a late December quadriceps injury slowed him for the playoffs.

Under Mornhinweg's direction, Vick has developed into an MVP candidate.
(Howard Smith/US Ppresswire)

Heading into the offseason, Mornhinweg loaded Vick with handfuls of tapes telling him to study not only the Eagles offense, but the many different defenses he would potentially face during the 2010 season. To Mornhinweg it was clear that Vick watched them all. And when Vick arrived for training camp this summer, the Eagles coordinator saw no need to continue the extra workouts.

Mornhinweg said he has not talked to Vick much about what happened in Atlanta, when it seemed Vick had become too focused on running away from defenders and had never worked on accuracy. Vick admittedly became complacent with the Falcons, satisfied enough with his status as a superstar that he didn't put in the necessary work.

In Philadelphia, there's been a clear contrast in his approach and attitude. In addition to the regular quarterback and offensive meetings, Vick also gets together with centers Mike McGlynn(notes) and Nick Cole(notes) every Wednesday and sits down with Mornhinweg on Fridays just to be sure everyone is communicating and there are no mistakes.

"He's never resisted anything at all," Mornhinweg said. "He's been determined for what, a year and a half going on two years? He has been a very determined man."

Just two days before, on a player's day off, Vick showed up in Mornhinweg's office. They hadn't done their drills in months now but there were some things Vick felt he wasn't doing right. This was no more than 48 hours after he led an improbable fourth-quarter rally against the Giants and had been hailed as the league's offensive star of the week.

Could they go into the practice bubble, pull out the nets again and work on a few things? Vick wondered.

They could indeed.

"That's where he is right now," Mornhinweg said, shaking his head.

Last week, as he hurried from the locker room to a meeting, Vick stopped and agreed to speak with a reporter when he heard the subject was about Mornhinweg and the work they had done together.

"If this is about Marty I definitely have a moment," he said.

Vick then talked about his first meeting with his coordinator, about how he knew so little about the man who was going to become his mentor other than he once coached the Lions, who went 5-27 under Mornhinweg. He said he trusted Mornhinweg quickly and knew they would work well together when he watched Mornhinweg call plays in practice and the preseason games and realized the offense was one in which he could shine as a player.

"I knew there was a lot of work to get done, but it was worth it," Vick said.

Then he smiled.

"I think [Mornhinweg] will be a head coach soon," he said. "He'll take one of those young quarterbacks and make them really good."

What better résumé line can there be than the remaking of Michael Vick?