With Vick, Chargers to try again at QB

No. 1 S.D. unafraid it'll turn over a new Leaf

2001 NFL Draft

April 18, 2001|By KANSAS CITY STAR

Even though the San Diego Chargers were burned the last time they drafted an allegedly can't-miss quarterback, they're almost certain to bet Saturday that Michael Vick won't let them make the same mistake twice.

The Chargers were so enamored with Ryan Leaf's potential in 1998 that they traded two first-round picks, a second-round pick and two players to the Arizona Cardinals to move from the third to second spot. That assured the Chargers of getting Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf, depending upon which quarterback the Indianapolis Colts drafted with the top pick.

The Colts took Manning, who has become a two-time Pro Bowl pick. Leaf proved to be such a bust on and off the field that the Chargers released him in February.

The Chargers don't have to wait for anyone to pick Saturday, and are expected to take Vick, who could have been a junior at Virginia Tech this year. In fact, the club opened contract negotiations yesterday with Vick's agent, a sure sign that it intends to select him.

"I don't have any more questions," Chargers coach Mike Riley said recently after spending nearly a week with Vick. "I'd love to have the opportunity to coach him."

Leaf's failure to adjust to the NFL was a factor in the Chargers' 1-15 finish last season. Now, the team is banking on Vick's development to help bury in the past one of the worst picks in NFL draft history.

"I would just go in there and try to do the right things," Vick said. "That's what I've been doing my entire career. I'm well-respected by others. I'm a disciplined person and believe success comes with discipline.

"I understand that this is a business. You have to be smart. You have to present yourself well around others. And you have to make big-league decisions. That's what I've been able to do."

Vick, 6 feet, 211 pounds and left-handed, as a freshman led Virginia Tech to the national championship game. His exceptional running and powerful arm embody the new generation of NFL quarterbacks, which is why he vaulted to the top of the draft as soon as he announced he would enter.

Vick, however, didn't play in a passing offense at Virginia Tech and threw just 161 passes last season. To give Vick time to learn a pro offense, the Chargers signed veteran Doug Flutie to start at least one season.

"I have a lot of learning to do," Vick said.

"In the NFL, I'll have a lot more chances to throw the ball downfield, and that will help me become a better quarterback. It's going to be a challenge, and I can't wait. I'm excited."

In San Diego, Vick would have the benefit of working with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, a quarterback expert who helped develop Troy Aikman at Dallas. Vick also has the benefit of advice from a second cousin, quarterback Aaron Brooks, who last season led the Saints to the NFC West title after Jeff Blake broke his foot in November.

Brooks, a fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1999, surprised Saints teammates with his command, presence and poise, though he'd never started an NFL game.

"He told me things that could help me, like studying my playbook, get in as much film work as I can, having good relationships with my coaches because those are the people I'm going to have to see every day and work with," Vick said.

Brooks showed surprising patience in the pocket despite his inexperience and impressive running ability. Vick will have to resist the temptation to take off and run, his strong suit in college.

"I'll be a lot more patient in the NFL," he said. "I'll have to be. I want to get the ball out of my hands. If nobody's open and there's 50 yards in front of me, I'll take it.

"But you've got to remember that there are guys in this league who are much bigger and faster and they'd love to knock your head off. So you've got to be cautious and aware of what's going on."

Although the Chargers will take pains to bring along Vick slowly, Brooks' experience makes it clear to Vick he'll be just an injury away from playing.

"That's why I'm going to prepare myself," he said.

"If I have to sit down and be guided by somebody and be the backup, that's what I'll do. That will benefit me.

"If the opportunity comes and I'm thrown into the fire, then I will have to make the most of it."

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