Backup QB Gradkowski placed on injured reserve after finger surgery
August 25, 2015 8:05 PM
Jets quarterback Michael Vick tries to evade the Steelers' Lawrence Timmons as he carries in the third quarter during a game at MetLife Stadium in November. Vick threw two touchdown passes in the Jets' victory.
Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon sacks then-Eagles quarterback Michael Vick during a preseason game in 2012. Vick also has played for the Falcons and Jets.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski facing possible shoulder surgery and out for the season, the Steelers turned to Michael Vick, 35, as his replacement.
Vick, a multitalented quarterback who has gone through his share of troubles off the field, including a stint in jail for dog fighting, signed a one-year contract Tuesday night.
Gradkowski, the backup to Ben Roethlisberger the past two seasons, had surgery Tuesday on his left hand, which was injured in the Sunday game against Green Bay. He also injured his right shoulder on the same play, and coach Mike Tomlin said he might need more surgery. The Steelers placed him on injured reserve Tuesday night.
“Bruce has missed a lot of time throughout the preseason, and now with this injury and not having any timetable at this juncture for his return we thought it was prudent” to sign another veteran quarterback.
Vick was by far the best available on the open market.
“There’s not a throw on the field he can’t make from an arm strength standpoint, he’s a very experienced guy at what he does at this point in his career. And, obviously, the mobility is still unique even at 35,” said Tomlin.
He acknowledged there might be some negative publicity for the Steelers for signing Vick, who was released in the summer of 2009 after spending 21 months in jail for dog fighting.
“Obviously, you’re sensitive to those potential things,” Tomlin said. “But we’re going to do our due diligence, rest assured we’ve done that, but rest assured he’s done a lot since he’s gone through some of the things he’s gone through. His track record in that regard speaks for itself.
“As a professional, I have a great deal of respect for him and what he’s capable of. I spent a lot of time in the NFC South against him when I was secondary coach of the [Tampa Bay] Bucs and he was the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, and [I spent] a lot of sleepless nights obviously in preparation for those matchups.”
Vick, 35, has been a free agent after playing for the New York Jets last season, his third team in 12 NFL seasons, a stretch interrupted by his stint in jail.
Vick comes from the same Tidewater area of Virginia as Tomlin, who made inquiries about signing Vick after he was released from federal prison in 2009. The distractions, though, were considered too much for the Steelers, and it was never pursued seriously. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles that August.
The reaction from his new teammates was welcoming.
“For me, it’s about any way, any person, any thing who can help this team,” Roethlisberger said. “If that’s Michael Vick, then so be it.”
Roethlisberger said he doesn’t really know Vick, but added “he’s a great football player.”
“It’s undeniable the athlete he is and the quarterback he is, especially in Atlanta and the things he did. I know a lot of guys growing up wanted to be Michael Vick because he was a splash, exciting football player.”
Cornerback Brandon Boykin, acquired by the Steelers in a trade with the Eagles this summer, played with Vick in Philadelphia and said he was a model teammate.
“I love Mike. I was able to play with him for two years in Philly. He still has a lot left in the tank and a guy who is passionate about football. I’m sure everybody [in the front office] and the rest of the team will welcome him with open arms if he can help us win.
“He became a leader right away and a guy everybody looked up to knowing he was a veteran and had been through a lot just on the field. Knowing what he was capable of. I think when he comes here, he’ll be the same, he’ll do what he’s asked and he’ll do it well and blend in fine.”
Vick has worked to rebuild his reputation. His teammates in Philadelphia voted him the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. He has worked to try to get passed the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act in Congress.
PETA issued a statement from senior vice president Lisa Lange on Vick joining the Steelers: “As long as he’s throwing a football and not electrocuting a dog, PETA is pleased he is focused on his game.”
He can still play football as the Steelers found out in November. when he threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions in he New York Jets’ 20-13 upset victory against them. He also ran eight times for 39 yards in that game.
The Jets were Vick’s second team since his pre-jail days in Atlanta with the Falcons. He played five years for the Eagles and last season for the Jets, who did not try to re-sign him when he became an unrestricted free agent in March.
“Everybody has a past, all we can do is work on the future,” Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I like to think he’s learned from his mistakes. You’ve seen him in other places where he’s tried to reach out to the community. Pittsburgh is a perfect place for him to do that if he ends up being here. But we welcome everybody, and, at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to get better.”
Vick played 10 games with the Jets last season and had a 68.3 passer rating. He had 289 yards rushing and a 9.3-yard average per carry. In 12 seasons since he broke in with Atlanta, he has an 80.4 passer rating, completing 56.1 percent of his passes for 22,093 yards. He also has rushed for 6,010 yards, including 1,039 yards in 2006 with the Falcons.
Vick had been trying to find another job with an NFL team since he became a free agent this year. In July, he issued a video of himself through Twitter to remind all that he can still throw a football.
“I think that I’ve done a lot throughout the course of my career,’’ Vick told the NFL Network in June. “I’ve proved that I can win games and play with some consistency and be a leader. I think those are the qualities that you want in a quarterback.’’
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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