New Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora was still installing an offense and defense when his team's training camp opened Wednesday at Furman University, but it was clear what Mora's number one priority will be over the next seven weeks or so.
Keep star quarterback Michael Vick healthy.
Vick, the former Virginia Tech star, missed the first 11 games last season after breaking his right fibula against the Baltimore Ravens during the preseason. The Falcons went 2-10 in games Vick didn't start and finished 5-11, a year after making the playoffs in Vick's second season. With Mora on high alert, Vick figures to play some -- but not much -- during the Falcons' preseason games against the Ravens in Baltimore on Aug. 12 and against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Sept. 3.
Vick said he doesn't want to play for very long in the exhibition games, after he was hurt in the first half of the second preseason game last season. Vick left the pocket and was hit by Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas, and the Falcons watched their season crumble as Vick's leg hooked in the artificial turf of the Georgia Dome.
"I know what it's like to play in this league," Vick said Wednesday. "I know the game speed. I know the tempo. I really don't even have to play in the preseason. Just being in a game that counts toward your record is enough for me."
Vick said he hasn't talked to Mora about how much he'll play or practice during the preseason. But Vick will have to play some as he continues to digest the West Coast offense that Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp brought from San Francisco. The much-glorified offense involves short and intermediate pass routes and requires a quarterback with a quick trigger.
"You'd like to see him take command of the huddle; take command of the offense and you'd like to see him make good decisions with the ball in his hands when the play breaks down," Mora said. In his first three pro seasons, Vick was more apt to drop back in the pocket, throw long or try to run for a first down. The previous coaching staff did little to rein in Vick; Knapp and Mora aren't applying a tight leash, but say they want Vick to be smarter and safer in the pocket.
Vick, 24, ran for 777 yards and eight touchdowns in his only full pro season as a starter in 2002, the third-highest rushing total by a quarterback in NFL history. He says his legs will continue to be as important as his left arm.
"[Running] is part of my game and that's something that I'll always do," Vick said. "You'll always see me run. I won't change my game. That's just me. That's just Michael Vick. That's the fun part of the game."
But Vick said he's willing to run less if it helps him become a better quarterback. He threw for 2,936 yards with 16 touchdowns and only eight interceptions while completing 54.9 percent of his passes two years ago.
"I'm excited about becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the game," Vick said. "I don't want to end my career just being a running quarterback. I want to be known as a guy who progressed as a passer and also was a quarterback who could scramble and make things happen with his feet. My goal is to pass for 4,000 yards in one year before my career is over, and I'm just trying to get into a system that allows me to do that. I think the West Coast system will do that for me."