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News - BBQ blues

And other hard lessons for Michael Vick, the falcons' latest savior

Michael Vick is destined to be one of the great mysteries in sports. Now that the Falcons have him, we'll never know how great an NFL quarterback he might have been. I look at the roster — of coaches, not players — and fear he's doomed.

Here we have quarterbacks guru Gary Stevens, recently of the Oakland Raiders (you know, Rich Gannon, scrambling QB) and formerly of the Miami Hurricanes (Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh) hired as wide receivers coach. That's because Jack Burns is presently installed as the quarterbacks coach, the position he held during Chris Chandler's two consecutive career-years, before friction scuttled the dynamic duo.

Come Sundays, Burns will be on high in the coaches' box, ostensibly calling plays. That's because the Falcons don't have an offensive coordinator. And that is because it's really Dan Reeves who runs the offense.

Think of Stevens as the Jason Terry of Falcons coaches: a great talent trapped in the wrong position. Only he can't hope that he'll be shifted to his best position if Burns sprains a knee.

Meanwhile, Burns has already begun meeting with Vick. This would seem prudent — "It's a big book and there's a lot of verbiage," Vick says of the playbook — except that one of the meetings took place last Friday morning on the first day of the Falcons' two-day minicamp. At the same time, Vick's fellow rookies were being fed to the media in an outdoor interview setting.

Vick was segregated from his teammates because the public relations office feared the media would pounce on him and ignore the other 19 campers. Good guess. Vick, the No. 1 pick, is expected to save the franchise and, possibly, the world. Three-quarters of the rest of assembled draftees and undrafted free agents will be selling insurance a year from now. If they're lucky. Nevertheless, Vick was kept away from reporters — except for ESPN — until after practice, late in the afternoon. Nothing like getting a jump on those double standards.

In fact, the public-relations spin machine revved to full throttle after the indoor field tests. Our intrepid campers had run two 40s and two cone drills in the space of 15 minutes when the franchise savior slumped onto a portable water cooler, pulled his number 7 jersey over his head and sat there, head down, as though it had suddenly hit him that he was a Falcon.

In reality, what hit him was lunch. No team official would confirm who made the offending barbecue that had Vick sitting motionless in the dead air as his no-name compatriots raced around the little orange cones. And while Vick didn't move a muscle, plenty of other people did. Head trainer Ron Medlin offered water, others offered a gentle pat on the back. Reeves whispered encouragement and someone produced a large plastic garbage bin. Just in case. (He didn't need it.) Eventually, Vick took a long walk outside and returned in time for the triple jump and vertical leap.

Vick handled the embarrassment better than PR did. "It took a toll on my stomach for a second there," he said with a small smile. "Tomorrow, I'm drinking juice."

Simultaneously, the PR spin was that the players hadn't been able to eat in preparation for physicals and then Vick was in meetings and then he ate too fast, blah, blah, blah. All true. And all true of the other rookies, none of whom found themselves staring at a 30-gallon receptacle.

Only hours later was it announced that Vick ran the 40 in 4.36 seconds. Both times.

What? That's receiver speed. And Vick runs like a receiver, too, elegantly, gracefully, with little apparent effort. When he began throwing, he was leading every receiver, which led to a lot of dropped balls on Day 1 of the Vick Era. But it won't later, when Vick has better, more experienced receivers. He will have better, more experienced receivers, won't he?

Let's hope it matters who is on the receiving end. Vick's physical gifts are clear. His willingness to work is not in question. But he is only 20, and has fewer than two full seasons at quarterback at Virginia Tech. He needs brains to tap into. Where is he going to find them?

Hot shots: What's hot in Atlanta sports
No comment 1 -- Scot Pollard and Jon Barry: two more Hawks' discards now appearing in the NBA playoffs.

No comment 2 -- Lenny Wilkens is still coaching in the NBA playoffs. His Raptors beat the Knicks with ... defense.

0 -- Number of come-from-behind wins for the Braves when they're trailing after six innings.

Words to live by -- Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone to reliever Jose Cabrera: "Keep your butt up."

Fantasy league -- Who would you rather have looking after your safety: CART or NASCAR?





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