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Steelers perfect fit for Michael Vick 4.0?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 7:04:18 PM America/Los_Angeles

Maybe that's the key word for Vick at this stage: grasp.

He takes command of the Steelers on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens, in the saddle of a one-year contract, firmly transitioned into the role of backup quarterback. And that's the distinction about this opportunity versus the past. He's not being looked upon as a savior or an answer. Instead, Vick's only responsibility is to be a dependable stopgap, using the players around him to hold the fort until Ben Roethlisberger's injured knee heals. 

Vick's opportunity is measured. At 35 years old and in the winter of his career, the chance to write new NFL chapters has passed. But a few new pages? That's within his grasp – and his former coach and longtime friend Reeves says Vick has finally found the right franchise to do it.

"He'll give them a chance to win," Reeves said. "That's what you want from your backup until Roethlisberger gets healthy. He's just got to not try to do anything but do his job. He doesn't have to try and carry everybody on his shoulders. He's just got to do a good job taking care of the football and play the way he's capable of playing. … He really hasn't had that many opportunities [the last few years]. But he's with a good organization and a good football team, so this is going to be interesting to see."


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Reeves isn't waving pom-poms from the cheap seats, either. He has been one of the few coaches who has maintained a longstanding friendship with Vick, stretching back to when Reeves personally handled some of the scouting legwork at Virginia Tech. Fourteen years of the highest highs and lowest lows have steeled their relationship – from the time Hokies coach Frank Beamer told Reeves he needed to keep an eye on Vick; to the shock of the dog-fighting revelations, which surfaced almost four years after Reeves had been fired; all the way through Vick's prison stint and NFL reclamation.

Through all of it, Reeves remained a friend. So you understand his guarded optimism about Vick's starting debut in Pittsburgh. After all, this isn't just any opportunity. If the Steelers keep upright with Roethlisberger out, Pittsburgh has a firm chance to be a dangerous AFC playoff team. And with key pieces like wideout Martavis Bryant and center Maurkice Pouncey slated for return later this season, it's a team that could get better offensively.

Before Pittsburgh's coaching staff can even think about that, the Steelers have to show they can win with Vick, which is something a dysfunctional New York Jets team failed to do in 2014. And the Steelers have to do it with Vick having limited exposure to the offense, thanks to a late-August signing following a season-ending hand injury to backup Bruce Gradkowski. Unlike past injuries to Roethlisberger, this isn't a Charlie Batch situation, where the understudy has been functioning inside the offense and learning alongside Roethlisberger for years. Quite the opposite.

The scheme needs to bend to the quarterback more now than ever. Roethlisberger was a guy whose greatest currency was standing in the pocket and taking constant punishment, extending plays and making the most when things went off script. The Steelers will likely be reluctant to have Vick do any of that, largely because of ball security issues he has had.

Rather than stay in the pocket, it's more likely Pittsburgh will design some movement for Vick to get him into his comfort zone and away from the oncoming rush. And despite his strong arm, the passing game is more likely to be shortened in hopes of getting the football out fast and into the hands of the surrounding talent. Sure, Vick can still go for the occasional deep ball with no issues, but the Steelers have a lot of capable equity in running backs Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, and quality run-after-catch guys like wideout Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller. Vick will have his best supporting cast since his peak years with the Philadelphia Eagles. And his chief responsibility will be to let that cast do the heavy lifting.

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