ATLANTA FALCONS UPDATE 

lVICK EXPRESSES FRUSTRATION WITH FALCONS' OFFENSE...

As Houston Chronicle beat writer John McClain pointed out last month, the last time Michael Vick had a good touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio was 2002 -- Dan Reeves' last season as coach.

Vick threw 16 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. He also ran for eight touchdowns that season.

Since Reeves was fired, Vick has thrown 14 and 15 touchdown passes and 12 and 13 interceptions. His touchdown runs have dropped, too, from three to six, since Reeves got his pink slip.

Now, in an exclusive interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution staffer Steve Wyche, Vick says there are reasons for the decline in his totals -- and more specifically for his failure to get the job done in 2005.

In case you missed it, Vick ranked 22nd in interception percentage, 25th in passer rating and 29th in completion percentage last season as the Falcons lost six of its last eight and missed the playoffs, prompting many to wonder why he deserved a third selection to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

Nonetheless, Vick finds himself in Honolulu this week.

And on Wednesday, following a practice session for the league's annual all-star game, he spoke candidly about his performance last season and his feelings about the offensive system.

For starters, Vick told Wyche that his sprained right knee, suffered in Week 4 against Minnesota, was far more severe than he ever let on, prohibiting him from being the multi-dimensional threat last season than he's been in the past.

"Me being hurt, I couldn't run the ball the way I wanted to," he explained. "I couldn't cut, couldn't spin. I just couldn't get loose the way I wanted to. I was never back to 100 percent. I took the brace off in Week 13 and it was something I had to fight through mentally.

"Hopefully next year I can dodge the injury bug and get back to playing the way I'm used to."

Vick, who also strained a hamstring earlier in the season, said the injury led to insecurity and that was his fault, not offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, as to why he appeared not to develop in his second-year of the Falcons' version of the West Coast offense.

In fact, when Wyche noted that Knapp has taken a tremendous amount of heat because of the belief he tried to make him into more of a standup, in the pocket quarterback, Vick flatly stated that wasn't the case.

"It was not coach Knapp," Vick insisted. "Coach Knapp never told me to stay in the pocket and go through my progressions. He always told me, 'If it's not there, you do what you do.' It wasn't coach. It was me. I really felt like I needed to protect myself, protect my knee. I just wasn't comfortable. It forced me to stay in the pocket a little bit more.

"There were certain things we didn't do. There were certain things Knapp maybe didn't put in the playbook."

Because of the knee?

"I can't think of any other reasons," the star signal caller said. "So I'd have to say it was the knee."

As for that offense, which Knapp and other coaches who've implemented it said takes three-to-five years to digest, Vick said he is "lost" about the team's overall philosophy, wondering why the passing game doesn't consist more of the short, slant patterns of most West Coast offenses.

"I thought the West Coast offense was supposed to be a lot of quick, dink-and-dunk passes and it's not being run that way," Vick said. "I'm not saying it's because of coach Knapp, but he's calling the plays. My perception of the West Coast thing is starting to change too.

"We're not doing what I see Seattle doing or San Francisco doing or Green Bay doing.

"We're not doing those things. I don't know if it's Knapp changing those things around but as far as I know, it's not the West Coast system as far as the way we run it.

"We're not dinking and dunking the way it's supposed to be done. It may be hurting me. It may be hurting the offense. I'm a little lost right now. ..."

Head coach Jim Mora was quick to chime in when asked about Vick's comments.

"Mike's right," the coach told Wyche. "We don't run the West Coast offense. Greg and I have said that from Day One. Our offense is tailored to the skills of our players. That's one of the reasons we've risen in rankings from 29th before. Greg took over the offense to 12th this past season and we expect to get much better."

One reason for Mora's optimism might be his decision to change Vick's position coach.

With an eye toward making 2006 a better year, the Falcons jettisoned quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson and hired Bill Musgrave from the Redskins the first week of January.

Not that Vick was especially pleased by the move.

Or more specifically, he wasn't especially pleased to be left out of the decision-making process.

"I haven't spoken to anybody [within the Falcons' front office]," Vick said shortly after the change was announced. "I didn't want to see [Johnson] go. ... I wish they would have [consulted him], but it's all good. That's why they coach."

According to the Sports Xchange, Vick wasn't so much concerned by the decision to make a change as he was in the sudden firing of Johnson.

Johnson was quarterbacks coach when Vick made the Pro Bowl squad in 2004 and this past season.

"It hurts me to see him go," Vick said. "I wish we could've kept him around. I don't know why he's gone, but that decision was made, and it's just something I've got to deal with."

But, given the endorsement Musgrave is likely have from No. 2 quarterback Matt Schaub, those who follow the team closely believe Vick will realize that his new coach has more experience in communicating the wishes of coordinators and head coaches than Johnson did.

Johnson brought some tools to the Falcons after spending the 2001 season as Doug Flutie's coach in San Diego, but the Xchange suggested that Vick and Atlanta stand to benefit more from the information Musgrave can provide after stints with Mark Brunell in Washington and Byron Leftwich in Jacksonville, Steve Beuerlein in Carolina, Rodney Peete in Philadelphia, Jeff George in Oakland and Peyton Manning's first professional camp with Indianapolis in 1998.

Because Musgrave has had such a long NFL tenure working with a variety of playbooks, Knapp should find it easier to communicate his intentions and hopes to Vick now that Johnson is gone.

As the Xchange put it: "Nothing against Johnson; it's just that Musgrave seems a better fit."

Whatever the case, there is obviously some concern within the organization over Vick's development -- with SI.com senior writer Jeffri Chadiha reporting this morning that league insiders believe his inability to handle the various defenses he faced down the stretch being chief among their worries.

Maybe Musgrave can change that. ...

In a semi-related note. ... Tight end Alge Crumpler told Wyche this week he doesn't expect life to be as cozy between players and coaches next season, following Atlanta's 8-8, non-playoff finish.

"There's probably going to be a more aggressive tone as far as the way things are done," Crumpler said. "There's probably going to be a little more separation between coaches and players because we didn't get it done.

"You have to earn leeway and respect, and when you don't win, something has to change. [Mora] is going to take the reins and do what he feels like he needs to do. Those who are going to be on ship will be there. Those that aren't probably are going to have to go somewhere else."

Crumpler, who will play in his third consecutive Pro Bowl Sunday after nabbing a career-high 68 catches for 877 yards, said the Falcons' inability to close out so many games late in the season could have been a result of too many players not understanding the breadth of the season or how to handle adversity.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint. There will be some bumps, like Pittsburgh had, where they struggled for three, four games," Crumpler said.

"That light has got to come on at a certain point. For us, it flickered but it never stayed on. ..."

Crumpler underwent arthroscopic knee surgery early last month and is sufficiently recovered to take part in this week's all-star game. The knee was an issue all season long, but he did not miss a game.

"He really sucked it up all year and you could tell at the end there that it was tough to cut," Mora said of Crumpler. "I think it's important to note the type of leader that he is. For part of the season he was taking Wednesdays off of practice to rest that knee.

"The tighter it got at the end and the more important the games got in crunch time, he needed to take them off and he wouldn't. ..."

One last note on the coaching front. ... The Falcons retained part-time consultant and offensive line guru Alex Gibbs and hired UCLA offensive coordinator Tom Cable to fill the vacant offensive line coach position in an effort to improve their once-dominant line, which Pro Football Weekly suggests "showed some cracks in the foundation at the end of last season."

Gibbs held the same position last year, but after the Falcons struggled in 2005, he was reportedly contemplating retiring or joining Gary Kubiak's new staff in Houston.

Gibbs and Kubiak used to work together as assistants for the Broncos, and it was in Denver where Cable learned Gibbs' famous zone-blocking scheme while an assistant at the University of Colorado.

Gibbs came to Atlanta in 2004 with Mora and was the team's line coach, but he stepped down after one season for personal reasons and remained with the team as a part-time consultant. His replacement, Jeff Jagodzinski, left Atlanta last month to become the Packers' offensive coordinator.


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