The injury to Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will undoubtedly have a much bigger impact on the team’s season than did those suffered by backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, but it is the player that the team signed to fill his spot, and not Pouncey’s, that has drawn all of the headlines.
That is because that player happens to be Michael Vick, arguably the most polarizing figure in the league, who tends to be a lightning rod for discussion. But the discussions that led to him signing with the Steelers yesterday were about football, not his past, and that is where I will remain for today.
It is true that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wanted to sign Vick after he was released from prison in 2009 in a move that was more or less vetoed by the ownership, and understandably so, given the climate that he would be entering then. Six years on, things are a little different.
But so is Vick, the player. When he first returned, he did show that he still had the ability to play and to win games, even with his arm, but it is certainly important to understand that the Michael Vick of 2015 that the Steelers are getting, based on his recent track record, is a far cry from 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Vick started 12 games that season, throwing for just over 3000 yards, completing over 62 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.1 yards per attempt. His 21 touchdown passes to six interceptions was impressive, and he added nine rushing touchdowns to three lost fumbles, with 676 yards gained with his legs.
Since then, Vick has started 32 games, throwing 38 touchdowns versus 19 interceptions, with four rushing touchdowns and 13 lost fumbles. His accuracy has been on the decline, dipping below 53 percent last season with the Jets.
In fact, Vick averaged just five yards per pass attempt last season, though admittedly that came in just three starts on 121 pass attempts, which is a bit of a small sample size. But the fact that he managed to take 19 sacks in 154 drop backs certainly speaks to his decreased escape ability with a corresponding stagnation in his awareness of when to get rid of the ball.
The truth is that Vick is not the Steelers’ first choice to back up Ben Roethlisberger. Had that been the case, he would have already been on the roster. He does not have Gradkowski’s accuracy, nor his command of the offense, let alone the experience running it.
What he does have is mobility and a big arm, and should he be forced into game action, the Steelers do have the tools around him to take advantage of those assets.
Defenses will not want to contend with both Vick and Le’Veon Bell as running threats in the backfield, all the while worrying about the deep ball going over their heads to Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant. But the hope is that he sees exactly as many snaps as Gradkowski saw in his first season with the team in 2013: zero.