PHILADELPHIA - Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is enjoying playing football again.
Last season's tribulations - he didn't play very well and then suffered a concussion during the Eagles' 4-12 campaign - sapped his enthusiasm and confidence.
New coach Chip Kelly has rekindled Vick's desire.
"I fell in love with the game again and I am thankful for that," Vick said Thursday night after the Eagles' 14-9 preseason victory over Carolina at Lincoln Financial Field. "You've got to play this game with intense passion and purpose. I thank Coach Kelly for what he has done for me, and that's just giving me the confidence that I felt like I was losing at some point in my career."
He lost a lot of it last season.
Vick had mediocre statistics. He completed 204-of-351 passes (58.1 percent) for 2,362 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But the Eagles were just 3-6 when he got a concussion that forced him to miss five games. When he was ready to return, then-coach Andy Reid benched him in favor of Nick Foles.
Vick endured his share of blame for the team's collapse. After the season, it was widely assumed that he would be released. When Kelly was hired on Jan. 16, however, one of his first moves was to convince Vick to stay. Vick restructured his contract and is playing this season on a one-year deal.
"When things don't go well and when everybody is pointing the finger at you, it can hurt your confidence," Vick said Thursday. "You could be one of the best players in the league and sometimes outside sources can maybe waiver your feelings or emotions.
"I read everything that was said. I lived it. But when I first sat down with Coach Kelly, his main concern and goal was to help me get back in tip-top shape, and get me to the point where I am comfortable and can believe in myself again. I thank him for that."
Through an intense offseason program, Vick put on 4 pounds of muscle without sacrificing the speed that makes him so dangerous to defenses. The 33-year-old proved it by beating running back LeSean McCoy in a 40-yard dash after one of their workouts.
He's also proven to be a quick study of Kelly's new offense. In two preseason games, Vick has completed 13-of-15 passes for 199 yards with one touchdown and an interception that came on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half Thursday. Against the Panthers, he hit on 9-of-10 passes for 105 yards and set up a touchdown with a 14-yard run.
"He was very accurate (in the passing game) and he ran really well," Kelly said Thursday. "Playing quarterback is about making good decisions and I thought he's made very, very good decisions two weeks in a row. I think he can put the ball on people (by passing) and obviously he's a weapon when he takes off and runs."
Although Foles has also played well in the preseason, Vick appeared to take a decisive lead in their race to become the starting quarterback for the regular season.
Yet, Kelly is still in no hurry to name a quarterback for the regular-season opener at Washington on Sept. 9. He wouldn't even commit to a starter for next Saturday's preseason game in Jacksonville.
"We're going to evaluate everything," Kelly said after the game. "I've told you since Day 1, we're not going to make any rash decisions. One of them may sprain an ankle walking in the parking lot and then the decision is made.
"I think (Vick and Foles) are doing a great job of making it difficult for us because they're both playing at a high level right now. So I look at that as a positive. I think it's a good situation the way both those guys are playing right now. I think they can (both) move our offense and that pleases everybody."
Like Vick, Foles has also led a touchdown drive in each of the preseason games, though he was forced to overcome mistakes. He lost a fumble on his first series of the preseason against New England last week, then threw a costly interception in the end zone against the Panthers. He also dropped two shotgun snaps on Thursday.
In two games, Foles, 24, has completed 11-of-14 passes for 96 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He's also showed surprising mobility, rushing for 23 yards on three carries, including a 7-yard TD run against the Panthers.
"I think the coaches are looking at more than just statistics, but that's up to them," Foles said Thursday. "All I can do is go out there and correct what I did wrong and just improve."
Despite the competition, both quarterbacks have remained friends and have been unwavering in their support for one another.
When Foles came to the sideline after a timeout on his first series Thursday, Vick was the first one to greet him and offer advice. When Vick led the team to a touchdown on his first series, no one was happier than Foles.
"I have always said that Mike and I have a great relationship," Foles said. "That has been a great deal and I am always happy to see him do well out there. He is a great quarterback and going against him has made me a better quarterback."
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