Ihave always been a lukewarm fan of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
That goes all the way back to his early days with the Atlanta Falcons and before his run-in with the law.
I give him credit for doing what has been necessary to turn his life around after being released from prison. While in Philly, he's done and said all the right things off the field and on, except, of course, for leading the Eagles to a perfect 7-0 record this season.
I give him credit for being an excellent quarterback for the Falcons and a fairly decent signal-caller for the Eagles.
And after watching closely the last three Eagles games on TV, I don't believe what's happened to the Eagles this season is all Vick's fault.
Though I'm not convinced Vick is the guy to lead the Eagles to the promised land, I do think he's getting a raw deal this season from those who would find fault with him.
First things first -- compare Matt Ryan's performance for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday with Vick's. Ryan never had a hand laid on him for more than three quarters. He was able to drop back to pass, take his time, then step up into the pocket to deliver the ball on target. He did that time and time again.
The result? The Falcons scored the first six times they had the ball on offense.
Vick, on the other hand, was knocked down, chased around, hassled, harried and more times than not had to either pass while on the move -- he's the lowest-rated quarterback in the NFL when it comes to completions on passes thrown while he's out of the pocket -- or pass off his back foot because he was trying to avoid the defensive rush.
You want Vick to look like Matt Ryan? Then give him an offensive line that will protect him as well as Ryan's offensive line protected him last Sunday. It might not be just that simple, but it'd go a long way toward making Vick more successful offensively.
And while we're at it, find the Eagles a defense that will put some pressure on the other team's quarterback. There's no excuse for Ryan to have escaped a sack until a third of the way through the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
And let's not ignore two other weaknesses in the Eagles' repertoire: 1. They don't tackle worth a darn because they're content to grab for the ball while trying to force fumbles instead of taking a guy down, or they think a shoulder hit is always an acceptable alternative to a hard-nosed, wrap-your-arms-around-the-guy tackle; and 2. Receivers drop too many passes that should be caught at the NFL level.
None of which, by the way, is Vick's fault.
Vick is, however, responsible for his turnovers -- 13 after just seven games (eight interceptions and five fumbles). He can and must do better. He throws some silly interceptions at times, but the same can be said for most NFL quarterbacks.
My biggest concern with Vick, and probably the reason I wouldn't have him back at quarterback next season if I were the one making the decision, is his health. He's fragile. He's had a number of concussions. He's missed too many games to injury.
At age 32, and after 10 years worth of pounding as a running quarterback, his body is starting to show signs of breaking down. He's not even halfway through this season and he appears beaten up -- mentally and physically.
He's the No. 1 all-time leading rusher for quarterbacks (5,219 yards), and he has the bumps, bruises, aches and pains to prove it.
Eventually all that punishment catches up to a person -- even a great athlete such as Vick. He's only 6-feet tall and 215 pounds, after all, smallish for an NFL quarterback.
And on top of all that, his contract calls for him to be paid $15.5 million in 2013, the third year of a five-year, $80 million deal.
That's a lot of money to pay a guy who's missed 23 regular-season games because of injury -- a thumb, ribs, sprained right shoulder, broken right fibula (leg), injured left shoulder, strained right medial collateral ligament (knee), rib cartilage, more broken ribs, a concussion and an injury to his right hand.
Sounds like the resume of an NFL quarterback who spends too much time being flushed out of the pocket or running the ball for yardage.
And it's taken its toll.
I guess what I'm saying is I hope Vick continues to run the team, and I hope he turns the season around so the Eagles make the playoffs.
Then the Eagles should either trade him -- the New York Jets might be interested, or any of a half-dozen other NFL teams -- or bring in a new set of big bodies that can give him a little protection.
One or the other.
Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick email@example.com.