BEREA — Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has been one of the NFL’s most popular and polarizing players throughout his 11-year career.
Above all else, though, he has been the most effective running quarterback in league history.
With 5,219 rushing yards and an NFL-record 7.2-yard average per carry, Vick is the gold standard for all great athletes who play the position.
“That’s what makes him extremely dangerous because he can do it with his feet from outside the pocket and he throws the ball extremely well,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “He can have a bad play, a bad play and then all of a sudden it’s a touchdown. I think he’s a superstar in this league.”
Neutralizing Vick will be Shurmur’s primary objective Sunday when Philadelphia opens the regular season at 1 p.m. at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Making that task more difficult than in the past, the 32-year-old Vick is throwing the football better than ever.
The 6-foot, 215-pounder passed for a career-high 3,303 yards in 2011 for the Eagles — despite missing three games with a rib injury. Vick also set new standards in completions (253) and attempts (423) while tossing 18 touchdowns.
“Not many people ever have stopped him,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “You can talk about trying to keep him in the pocket, but you can’t really keep him in the pocket. You’ve just got to be successful some of the time.
“He’s going to make plays, so you’ve got to hope you can limit them, and then play the game.”
Ironically, many of Cleveland’s young talents have often played the game as Vick, either in their minds or through the popular Madden NFL video game.
Rookie linebacker L.J. Fort, who will make his pro debut against Vick, said that makes the teams’ Week 1 matchup “real exciting, but you also know he’s going to make it real tough for us.”
Browns cornerback Joe Haden also has never defended against the Vick in a regular-season game, but said he sees some similarities between him and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“Him being able to extend the play is like Roethlisberger, but he’s just a lot faster,” Haden said. “That stresses us because you know you’ve got to stay on top of your receivers. He’s able to extend plays and then throw it as far as you want. If he runs a comeback and you’re (defending) on the comeback, he’ll just turn around and turn upfield.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re ready for all of that.”
Yet, for all of Vick’s on-field positives, there is one odd negative on his resume: He has never beaten the lowly Browns, losing twice to them with the Falcons, while completing just 41.3 percent of his 80 throws for a 51.2 passer rating.
“I’m playing with a different team now — a different offense, a totally different scheme — but I did think about that about two to three months ago when I was looking at the schedule,” he said. “That’s not my focus now, though.
“Every single quarterback wants to win the Super Bowl, so it’s important to get off to a good start to build momentum.”
Though Vick has five years remaining on his contract, he also admits that this season might be his final golden opportunity to win a championship.
His electrifying title quest in Atlanta ended when Vick spent 18 months in prison for a dogfighting conviction, while Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has made it clear that he expects big things from this team this season — or else.
“I know what it takes and what the NFL is all about, and I’m very appreciative of that,” said Vick, who visited Northeast Ohio in late June when he spoke at the NFL Rookie Symposium.
“I’m great, couldn’t be better right now, and I’m having fun. Coach (Andy) Reid has built something special with the Philadelphia Eagles organization. I’m grateful to be a part of it, and I’m excited about what we can do this season.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.