FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Pick up most preseason NFL magazines, and you'll read how Michael Vick has yet to prove he's an elite quarterback.
Even though he has won 33 of 51 career starts, Vick knows critics harp on his struggles in making good reads, throwing accurately and fumbling.
"I don't know," Vick said Monday. "I guess if it's not done a certain way, then you're not going to get recognition for it, but I think in the end, when my career is over, people will look back and say I did whatever it took to win games."
The Falcons consider better pass protection a priority this season, a wise move considering Vick signed a 10-year, $137 million contract in December 2004.
Vick accepts some blame for the offense allowing 79 sacks over the past two years, an average of one every 9.7 passing attempts. In 2005, coordinator Greg Knapp always pointed out that Vick improved his willingness to throw the ball out of bounds.
As a younger player, Vick would try to milk every last possibility, scrambling all over the backfield before the defense brought him down. He's still a nightmare to tackle - look at his average in yards per carry, which has led the league for quarterbacks in each of his three full seasons - but the Falcons know their best chance of returning to postseason is to keep Vick healthy.
Knapp likes Atlanta's chances of keeping its franchise cornerstone upright more often this year:
- In new quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, Knapp has a longtime confidante who "speaks the vernacular" of the West Coast offense.
"Now I'm not in the QB room all the time," Knapp said. "I didn't go in there at all during spring, and I've been in there only a little bit during training camp, so I can learn what they are most comfortable with."
- In Tom Cable, Knapp has a new line coach for the third time in three years. Alex Gibbs, who designed the successful zone-blocking schemes that helped Atlanta lead the NFL in rushing for 2004 and '05, remains on staff as a consultant.
The Falcons also traded for left tackle Wayne Gandy after Kevin Shaffer departed as a free agent. Gandy's quick first steps make him a better pass blocker.
- Perhaps even more important is Vick's improvement in timing his passes, an essential element of a successful West Coast offense.
"I'm seeing the ball quicker out of his hands during training camp, which just means he's understanding, before the ball's even snapped, that 'I'm eliminating this decision and going with this progression and getting ball out,'"Knapp said. "He's much more comfortable."
When the Falcons installed their verson of the West Coast offense, Vick heard how the system often took five years to fully comprehend.
"Right now, I'm in a comfort level I wish I could've been at two years ago," Vick said. "Those sack numbers went down last year, and this year I expect them to go down a little bit more."