Falcons thrilled to grab former Hokies QB at No. 1
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons have their savior.
Coming off two dismal seasons since reaching the Super Bowl, the Falcons took Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick with the first pick in Saturday's NFL Draft.
Vick, who played only two seasons for the Hokies, won't have to start right away but clearly faces the burden of reviving a moribund franchise.
"One thing they have to understand is that I am not going to make things happen in one game. It's going to take some time," Vick said from New York, where he wore a Falcons cap and showed off a black jersey emblazoned with No. 1.
But he quickly added, "It won't take long because I am going to devote all my time into learning this offense."
The Falcons, who have a 9-23 record since an improbable run to the NFC championship, were once again the toast of town after pulling off a bold trade with San Diego to land the top choice. They gave up three draft picks and receiver-returner Tim Dwight.
"I was not expecting to ride down the freeway and have people giving me this," said head coach Dan Reeves, flashing the thumbs-up sign. "After the seasons we've been through, it's very important to get the city excited about this team again."
Kevin Sykes was among several thousand fans who turned out at the Falcons training complex for a draft party.
"I'm sure there going to get a lot of calls on Monday for people wanting to buy season tickets," Sykes said. "I'm one of them."
He was accompanied by his 12-year-old son, Brandon, who wore a new Falcons cap.
"This is sweet," the youngster said.
Reeves made it clear that Chris Chandler will remain the No. 1 quarterback. In virtually the same sentence, the coach stressed that he plans to get Vick into the lineup as soon as possible.
"He can learn a lot more on the field than he can standing on the sideline with a clipboard in his hand," Reeves said.
Unlike the Chargers, who were scared off by the Ryan Leaf fiasco, the Falcons seem willing to meet Vick's contract demands: a $15 million signing bonus in a deal that could be worth more than $50 million. Atlanta made the trade only after talking with Vick's agent, Andre Colona.
"You've got to spend that much money," Falcons owner Taylor Smith said. "I think we can structure a deal pretty quickly that will be beneficial to both."
Vick's new teammates were ecstatic.
"I love Tim Dwight, but I think this is a great deal for us," said running back Jamal Anderson, who was nearly mobbed by the large turnout when he rode up on his motorcycle. "When you've got a chance to get a player like Michael Vick, you've got to do it."
Even the 35-year-old Chandler, a two-time Pro Bowler in Atlanta, released a statement welcoming the man who will eventually take his job.
"I am not going to play football forever," said Chandler, who has three years left on his contract. "Michael is a talented and exciting football player, and I am looking forward to working with him and helping him develop."
Anderson said he doesn't expect a quarterback controversy.
"Chris is our quarterback," he said. "It's a good situation for Michael. He's not coming to a team where they don't have a quarterback."
Vick was redshirted his first year at Virginia Tech and wants a similar grace period to learn the intricacies of the pro game. After all, he threw just 313 passes during his college career, which was spent in a run-oriented option offense.
"I would prefer to sit behind Chris for a year," Vick said. "If not a year, at least six or seven games."
Reeves wants to avoid the mistake he made in Denver, where he rushed John Elway into the lineup as a rookie in 1983.
Elway struggled at first, forcing Reeves to make a temporary switch to the more-experienced Steve DeBerg.
"John was tough enough mentally to handle it," Reeves said. "That's one question: How tough will Michael be mentally? You know there's going to be some tough times."
Especially with a team such as the Falcons, coming off a 4-12 season. They surrendered 61 sacks -- second-highest total in the NFL -- ranked 30th in offense with just 249.6 yards per game.
"It was an outstanding pick," Sykes said. "Now, they've got to get somebody who can protect him on the line."
But quarterback coach Jack Burns was already envisioning the possibilities. He talked of using the option and designing formations that would get Chandler and Vick on the field at the same time.
"This is an opportunity to dream a little bit and let your creativity run wild," Burns said.
The Falcons are enamored with Vick's speed -- he has been timed at 4.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- and ability to throw deep, accurate passes on the run. Two years ago, he displayed all of his skills with a dazzling performance against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
"One game and my stock really rose," Vick said.
But Reeves' offensive plan is one of the most verbose in the league, certainly much more difficult to learn than Virginia Tech's watered-down scheme.
Also, there is the lingering memory of Reeves' very public fallout with Elway, who complained of being stymied in the coach's run-oriented attack. The feud came to a head when Reeves was fired by the Broncos after the 1992 season.
Then again, Atlanta's rivals in the NFC West were already expressing concern about facing a quarterback such as Vick twice a year.
"That adds an awful lot of pressure to this division," Carolina head coach George Seifert said. "You add that kind of player on an artificial surface [at the Georgia Dome] and it gives them a dynamic that can cause fits."