- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

ATLANTA A 21-year-old bachelor especially one who's just come into million of dollars might choose to live in Buckhead, the city's trendy nightclub district.
Instead, Michael Vick bought a condo in Forsyth County, a suburban outpost near Lake Lanier that was the site of an infamous march in the 1980s to protest racial intolerance.
"The city life would be too much for me right now," Vick said. "I wanted to go where it's nice and quiet. I didn't want to be bothered by no distractions. I think it's benefiting me."
The Atlanta Falcons rookie is focused on more important matters, such as silencing skeptics who say he's a year or two or three from being an effective pro quarterback, who believe he'll be hopelessly overmatched by the complexities of the NFL after a mere 22 games in college, who point out that he won't be able to take off and run as he did at Virginia Tech.
"I love to surprise people," Vick said with a casual grin. "They're going to say what they're going to say. I can't worry about that. That's just how people are."
The Falcons won't be surprised if Vick becomes a star in fact, they're betting $62 million that he's the ultimate prototype for the new-age breed of quarterback embodied by Minnesota's Dante Culpepper and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb.
No one questions the strength in Vick's left arm. No one questions the speed in his two legs. No one questions his desire to make a lasting impact.
"I'd say Michael has the talent to be successful immensely so in this league," said Jack Burns, the Falcons' quarterbacks coach. "The question we have to answer is to the timing. What's best for Michael and what's best for the Falcons? We have to have an ideal situation."
In other words, the Falcons want to get the 6-foot, 210-pound Vick on the field as much as possible, as quickly as possible, without really knowing the answer to either question.
Chris Chandler still is the starter, but the team isn't paying all that money for someone to sit on the bench and the fans aren't real patient, either.
"There's going to be 20,000 extra people in the stands saying, 'We want Vick! We want Vick!' " Chandler conceded.
Everyone from star runner Jamal Anderson to the third-string tight end realizes Vick is the reason this often-sorry franchise can hope for a brighter future.
In the early days of training camp, Vick scrambled out of the pocket and gave a glimpse of his 4.3 speed. As a whistle blew to end the drill, he got the slightest of shoves from teammate Chris Draft.
"Hey, don't get cut!" cornerback Ashley Ambrose screamed at Draft, drawing laughter but speaking the truth.
Vick has shown promise and plenty of rough edges in the preseason. Against the New York Jets, he scrambled for a 17-yard gain to set up a touchdown but also fumbled twice.
Patience is the key, Chandler says.
"If you put him in there too soon, he's going to be uncomfortable about what to do," he said. "That could hurt his entire career. Look at Heath Shuler. He was a great prospect, a great athlete. But he lost so much confidence because he didn't know what to do."
For now, the Falcons are envisioning a unique backup role for Vick, who might play a few series every game with a watered-down playbook. If nothing else, a quarterback with sprinter's speed has the potential to cause all sorts of problems for defenses accustomed to chasing the slow-footed Chandler. Besides, the Falcons' shaky offensive line needs all the help it can get.
"I'm more excited to see him when he gets in trouble and what he does to get out of it," Anderson said. "You might see me standing around on the field just watching him."
The Falcons' receivers still are adjusting to their new quarterback. Shawn Jefferson always thought former New England teammate Drew Bledsoe had the league's strongest arm but said he's not even close to Vick. Twelve-year veteran Tony Martin also struggled to cope with the stunning velocity of Vick's throws.
"He's got to learn to get a little more touch on the ball," Martin said, "but that all comes with time."
Inexperience aside, Vick is already the Falcons' most popular player. Every day, dozens of young fans many wearing the No. 7 jersey camp outside the door of the team's training complex, clamoring for the rookie's autograph while more accomplished players stroll by, barely noticed.
"That just comes with the situation I've been put in," Vick said. "I was expecting that. But I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody, just my coaches and teammates."
As a high school star in Newport News, Va., Vick wasn't even the biggest thing in his own backyard. The spotlight was on Ronald Curry of nearby Hampton High School, one of the nation's top quarterback prospects.
So Vick slipped off to Virginia Tech, merely hoping for a chance to escape Curry's shadow. Coach Frank Beamer promised the recruit he wouldn't be moved to receiver or running back or some other position that might seem better suited for his speed.
"That was one thing going into college: I made sure I was going to be a quarterback," Vick recalled. "Wherever I went, I just wanted to make an impact."
While sitting out a redshirt season, dispatches from practice told of the first-string defense struggling to cope with this amazing scout-team quarterback.
Vick was the starter by the time he took his first snap in a college game, and he led the Hokies to an 11-0 record in 1999 before a 46-29 loss to Florida State in the championship game at the Sugar Bowl.
Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting only two other freshman ever placed as high and was magnificent even in defeat, accounting for 322 yards against the mighty Seminoles.
An ankle injury marred Vick's sophomore season, but he decided it was time to turn pro. When San Diego, with the No. 1 pick, balked at his contract demands, the Falcons willingly stepped up with the cash.
The team has endured two dismal seasons since winning its first NFC title in 1998. Reeves felt a dramatic step was in order, so he worked out a trade with the Chargers on the eve of the draft.
Suddenly, Atlanta had its savior.
"You see the enthusiasm around the city," Reeves said. "Even after the Super Bowl season in 1998, I do not believe there was this kind of excitement through the offseason. There are a lot of young people that look up to this young man."

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