Eagles Wake-Up Call: Mike Vick Versus the Ninja Stick

If Tom Anderson helped Michael Vick smoke LeSean McCoy in that race Thursday, he isn’t taking credit for it.

“No, that’s genetics right there,” he said with a laugh. “That’s Mrs. Vick.”

But surely, reconnecting with his trainer this offseason didn’t hurt him any.

Anderson, a track coach at Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, also trains professional athletes (Percy Harvin is also one of his clients). Vick’s high school football coach, Tom Reamon, now coaches at Landstown, and sent Vick in Anderson’s direction following the 2009 season. Vick credits Anderson for restoring the strength and speed he lost during his time in prison. In 2010, those skills were back on display in a big way.

Vick’s play has dropped off since then, as well all know. Coincidentally or not, he spent very little time with Anderson last offseason as his off-field obligations and interests expanded. He returned to the fold following the disappointing 2012 campaign. The bulk of the training was done during  a three-week stretch in late February-early March, when Vick would head to Virginia from Thursday-Sunday to work with Anderson.

This time around, Anderson decided it was time to put the gloves on.

“We looked at his issues. ‘Mike, what’s the major concern?’ It was the blows he was taking.”

Anderson wasn’t focused on who was responsible for the hits, but rather on how to limit the punishment when those hits came. So he made boxing — and the art of avoiding the brunt of the blow — a central part of the training regimen.

In one exercise, Anderson would stand about two feet away from the quarterback and repeatedly swing a foamed “Ninja stick” at his head or upper body, forcing Vick to turn his shoulders and “get skinny” to minimize the impact. In another, Anderson put an elastic band around Vick’s ankles and had him slide from side-to-side while punching at a stationary bag. (Anderson wouldn’t let Vick make contact with the bag. “We’re not tuning up your knuckles,” he told him, “we’re making you more elusive.”)  Whistle blows. Slide punch slide. Thirty seconds on, 30 seconds off. Whistle. Slide punch slide.

Vick and Anderson also wanted to get prepped for Chip Kelly‘s up-tempo pace, so they treated their football sessions more like track practice. Short bursts. Run a play. Right back to the line. Run another one. They timed it so it was the equivalent of running 30 plays in a quarter. Anderson taught him breathing techniques that sprinters use.

They also focused on the read option — going through different looks and having Vick react to them.

“He looked magnificent,” said Anderson. “You put him out on the perimeter, it’s a problem. It was exciting, I’ll say that.”

The biggest difference Anderson saw from 2010 to last season was that Vick was playing slower. He was relaxed in ’10, allowing muscle memory to shine through.

“Any time there is confusion, when there is a different set of stimuli, it slows you down,” he said. “He was apprehensive. We tried to speed it up and get him acclimated to different stimuli and different angles.”

Whether you want to credit genetics, training, or both,Vick proved Thursday that he is still lightning-fast at 32. The big question is whether he can still play and react fast, as he did back in 2010. We’ll see if his offseason work pays off.

 WHAT YOU MISSED

Teammates react to the Vick-McCoy race.

Matt Barkley is just as curious as you are as to what Kelly has in store.

In the latest Twitter Mailbag, we talk Vick, Nick Foles and the secondary.

Sheil gives us three Eagles numbers that matter.

 Tom Gamble‘s draft input was “really valuable.”

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Can we take anything away from Vick’s victory over Shady? Dan Graziano weighs in.

What does this tell us about the on-field chances of the 2013 Eagles? Not a lot, I guess. But when people put down Vick and wonder why Kelly brought him back for another chance, things like this can serve as reminders of what he still has to offer. Vick is one of the all-time athletic marvels in the history of the NFL — as fast as any quarterback we’ve ever seen (and apparently faster than some of the league’s top running backs) and armed with one of the strongest throwing arms of all time. Kelly would hardly be the first coach to look at Vick and see fantastic, even limitless potential.

Mel Kiper believes tight end Zach Ertz will be one of the impact players from Round 2.

It’s not an accident that we’ve seen tight ends drafted out of Stanford in two of the past three years. Chip Kelly loves to use them. And the Eagles drafted Ertz not just because Kelly couldn’t stop him in college — Ertz had 11 catches against the Ducks last year — but because he’s a great fit for Kelly. The Eagles have speed outside, but they really needed another tight end so they can get two on the field. And Kelly loves players who catch and block down the field. That’s Ertz.

COMING UP

Kapadia will also race Vick, but has demanded that no cameras be present.