CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) Michael Vick dropped back, peered down the field and flicked his wrist.
The football zipped through the air about 50 yards and dropped into the arms of a wide receiver running in stride. And it all looked so effortless for the New York Jets quarterback.
”Whoa!” one young fan shouted at a recent training camp practice. ”Man, he’s still got it!”
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Vick knows it.
Everyone else is starting to see it, too.
Thing is, Vick also believes he can not only be a starter in the NFL, but a star. Right now, he’s in line to back up Geno Smith this season. And, just as he did last year in Philadelphia, he’s doing everything he can to help a young quarterback get better as a high-profile mentor.
”I’m cool with it,” Vick said. ”I understood the situation coming in and I knew it was Geno’s job and my job was to push Geno. The thing I’m going to be is, I’m going to be a guy that’s going to be able to help Geno.
”But if this team needs me to play, I’m going to be ready to play.”
Vick is still hungry to be what he once was: one of the league’s most dynamic players. And as far as he’s concerned, no one can tell him any different.
”He can still throw it now, like, wow, can he throw it,” Rex Ryan said. ”It’s amazing how God touches people differently and, certainly, he gave this young man so much ability.”
Vick is 34, though, and some see him more as a big-name backup with plenty of experience rather than a potential starter.
Not Vick. Not yet.
”I still feel like I have a lot of football left to play, so I wouldn’t take it that far,” he said. ”But, hey, if that’s what it is now and the next couple of years, then, hey, we’ll see.”
There wasn’t much buzz this past offseason when he became a free agent, and Vick chose to sign with a team trying to determine whether Smith can be a franchise quarterback. That’s why, as Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said would happen, Smith is taking 75 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense.
”As the days go on,” Vick said, ”I continue to get more comfortable in my role.”
While the Jets have said there is competition at every position this summer, Vick has called Smith ”the starter” from the moment he signed.
But, as he well knows, that can change at any time. Just as it did last year, when he began the season with the Eagles as the starter, injured a hamstring and was replaced by Nick Foles – who went on to have a Pro Bowl season.
Rather than sulk, Vick reinvented himself.
He was lauded by Eagles coaches for his willingness to help Foles along, serving almost as another coach.
It’s still much of the same in New York.
”I think these are opportunities you have to embrace,” Vick said. ”The great part about this is we get to watch a young kid mature in the offense and grow. If I can take part and take credit for some of that, then I will. I will enjoy every minute of that, as if I was out there playing.”
He’s quick to give Smith a pat on the helmet after he makes a good play. He’s also eager to make sure Smith remains focused when things might not be going as smoothly.
”Just helping me with life lessons and learning from some of the things that he’s done,” Smith said. ”He’s been in this league 11 years. He’s had his ups and downs. Everyone knows that quarterbacks, you’re going to have a ton of those: ups and downs, ups and downs. You’ve just got to stay levelheaded. That’s the main thing that he talks about.”
After coming out of Virginia Tech as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2001, Vick quickly developed into one of the league’s most exciting players with the Falcons.
Then came a nearly two-year prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting ring that turned him into one of the most vilified athletes in recent memory. It changed his life, and is something he still tries to make amends for by championing animal rights.
He revived his career during his five years in Philadelphia, and greatly rehabilitated his image. But he’s still a bad guy in some eyes. Vick knows that will never fully change. All he knows is that as long as he’s on the football field – as player or mentor – life just seems right.
”I have had my share or jubilation in this league, and more to come,” Vick said. ”This is a great role I am in now, a great opportunity. I still get to come out and dress up and play a game I love. And that’s what’s most important.”
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