The Michael Vick-Chip Kelly Conundrum

If Michael Vick is going to be Chip Kelly‘s guy, he will have to change. There is just no getting around that.

We have referenced multiple times in this space  Kelly’s philosophy on the quarterback position, as explained during a coaching clinic while at Oregon.

The job of a quarterback is simple. He has to “let it happen, and not make it happen.” We want to move forward. That is a concept you have to make your team understand. The cardinal sin at our place is the quarterback sack. We want the ball out of the quarterback’s hands in 1.5 seconds. That does not mean holding the ball until 2.5, waiting for someone to get open.

Last season, Vick held onto the ball for an average of 3.07 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus. (A study done by Jimmy Kempski produced similar results.) Only three QBs — Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and RGIII — held onto it longer in 2012, per PFF.

How can Kelly’s offense work if his quarterback is keeping the ball in his hands twice as long as he wants him to? This much seems obvious: Vick is going to have to adapt. Kelly believes the 32-year-old can do it.

“I think there is a lot more to Michael,” Kelly said back in February. “I think quarterbacks are a byproduct of their experience.  But to sit here and say I understood the system that Michael’s been in whether he’s with the Falcons under Coach [Dan] Reeves or here, that depends on the system that you run.  Some of the systems that they run they don’t ask him to get the ball out quick.  Do I think he can get the ball out quick?  I think he’s got an unbelievable release.  It’s up and out and it’s quick.”

It is right to bring up Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg‘s offensive design. Plays  were often very slow to develop, particularly when Vick was under center, and even when the offensive line was in ruins. That was intentional, according to Trent Dilfer, who said the coaching staff was trying to cater to the quarterback’s strengths.

“It’s going to be interesting,” said Dilfer of the Vick-Kelly union. “Mike’s had most of his success on extended drops and longer-developing plays. He’s very accurate down the field, he has a strong arm and throws the ball real well.  It’s those deep crosses, those chunk yardage plays where he really excels. Oregon did not do a lot of that. [Offensive coordinator Pat] Shurmur has not done a lot of that over his career. Their roots are in a quick decision-making passing game. What I call a first completion passing game. They don’t wait for something better to happen. Michael has had most of his success doing the converse of that.”

Dilfer believes it’s a comfort thing above all else. Whether at Virginia Tech, Atlanta or in Philadelphia, Vick’s “signature football” has come while extending the play. There will surely be some room for that in Kelly’s system — allowing the creator to create — but it doesn’t sound like he wants to make a habit out of it.

If Vick is at his best when extending the play, and  Kelly wants a quarterback who gets the ball out quickly, where does that leave us?

Vick  spent the offseason getting ready for his latest challenge. The 11-year vet simulated running a super up-tempo offense; practiced the read-option; added muscle to his frame; and even did some boxing training to learn how to better avoid the big hit. A concerted effort was made to speed things up across the board. Early returns on the practice field have been positive, but they are very early returns.

“I don’t know what he’s been asked to do in the past, but that’s our job as coaches where he can get the ball out quickly, because we have some play makers on the offensive side of the ball that are going to flourish when we get the ball in their hands,” said Kelly. “So that’s on us as coaches.  [It’s] not on the quarterback.”

But ultimately, it is.

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