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Out of the Doghouse, into the Pound

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Cleveland--So you want to clean up your act, Michael Vick? You want to recover from your public relations hit by showing you genuinely care for dogs? You want to show the world that you are rehabilitated and that prison has made you a better man? You would even consider working with PETA for animal activism? Oh, what's that? You would also like to be a starting NFL quarterback again?

Well, today is your lucky day. With one change in scenery, all these wishes can be granted. Come to play for the Cleveland Browns. Not typically associated with a place where dreams coming true, Cleveland actually makes logistic sense. If you listen carefully you can hear management trying to ship Brady Quinn to Minnesota and Derek Anderson to Arizona. It seems a job vacancy at that position could arise. If you mention that Cleveland is on your radar, new Head of Football Operations, Mike Holmgren, will have a reason to send them packing.

On second thought, you may not even have to show interest to Holmgren. The two quarterbacks have made a compelling argument for their departure on their own. Over the past three seasons, Quinn and Anderson each had their equal shots to pull the Browns out of the basement. While they have had glimmers of hope, and even a Pro Bowl appearance for Derek Anderson in 2007, the struggles have outweighed the good times. In 2009, the offense finished dead last in the NFL.

If you throw out Jerome Harrison's 286 yard rushing game as an obvious outlier, there were no consistent games. Josh Cribbs was the only bright spot in moving the ball and this was reserved to special teams plays and direct snaps. The Browns should seriously consider acquiring Mike Vick and his run/pass threat. He belongs in a system that does not have an offensive identity that is entrenched. Look up "instability" and you may find a picture of the Browns.

If you look around the league for teams that have offensively reinvented themselves in the last five years, the model franchise is the Miami Dolphins. What makes Miami so dangerous is when they had Pat White, "Wildcat" quarterback, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and a fast wide-out in Ted Ginn, Jr. all on the field. It was a four-prong attack that averaged nearly ten yards per play. It is the reason the team finished 4th in the entire NFL in rushing yards. The offense added a deep pass dimension when Chad Henne replaced the injured Chad Pennington mid-season. The Miami ground attack was game-planned by opposing defensive coordinators so heavily that Henne had moments where he looked like Peyton Manning. If the "Wildcat" formation can make late-round draft picks and rookie quarterbacks look like stars, think of what it could do for Michael Vick.

While a member of the Falcons, the jury was still out as to whether or not Vick could be the prototypical passing quarterback. At this point, Cleveland would settle for Tim Tebow's passing skills. Match the youth of the wide receivers, the wind and snow of late-season AFC North weather, and the inconsistencies of Quinn and Anderson to hit open targets, and what you are left with is a fan base that would be overjoyed with a 50% completion percentage and could care less if he is a textbook drop-back passer.

Add Vick and Cleveland has all the supporting personnel to take more than just a single page out of the Miami playbook.

Michael Vick at quarterback with Jerome Harrison in the backfield, Josh Cribbs lined up in the slot, and a speedy Mohamed Massaquoi could be the Browns' four-headed monster. Any one of them could run it, pass it, or catch it. In essence, the Browns could have a left-handed (Vick) and right-handed (Cribbs) duo of scrambling quarterbacks, both on the field at all times. How could a defense plan for the versatility that Cleveland could roll out every game? Realistic expectations have the progression of Brady Quinn taking the Browns' offense no higher than 25th in the league next year. Vick could take it to the top half in his first season.

The team has no reason not to experiment with Vick, for it is less of an investment than a complete offensive overhaul. In order for a standard drop-back passer to succeed in Cleveland, the Browns would need to obtain a better corps of receivers, a better pass-catching tight end, and a better right side of the offensive line for pocket protection. That means draft picks, free agents, money spent, and patience on the part of the fans until the rookies learn the system. If the recent past has told us anything, Cleveland has a horrible tract record with all of the above. Draft picks are thrown around like they grow on trees, free agents (if any are signed at all) are usually past their prime, big contracts are a rarity for any Cleveland sports franchise, and the fans are legitimately tired of waiting.

There is one player, who in the height of his career, could make up for the shortcomings of ten. That player was, and still is, "the incomparable" Michael Vick. His time in Philadelphia proved that he still has the skill set; he just needs the repetitions and a starting gig. Vick is still confident that he is "a top ten quarterback right now." If true, he could allow Cleveland to focus their attention on the defense.

The Eagles have an embarrassment of riches at the QB position. Kevin Kolb is really coming on, Vick is still the most athletic player when he is on the field, and that Donovan McNabb guy just will not go away. Every year he puts his team in the playoffs and every offseason management tries to rid their team of him, like his Pro Bowl talent is the reason they do not win it all. Regardless, the team will ship one or two of these players. The Eagles drafted Kolb and would like to see as the heir to McNabb's spot. It could ultimately play out in a Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers way. They will either nudge McNabb towards retirement in two years or release him so Kolb can start. Vick, however, is the obvious choice to silently exit the drama immediately.

If Michael Vick would come to the Browns, the media blitz would be the greatest opponent. This is unfair, simply because the team has a loose affiliation with dogs. The marketing department of the Cleveland Browns would have to spin the pink elephant in the room into the perfect venue for Vick to start anew.

The PR task: avoid the puns of putting the fight back into the Dawg Pound, and embrace the fact that Michael Vick has a troubled past with canines. People have been making the jokes, dressing up in Michael Vick jerseys with stuffed animals dangling from sticks, for nearly two years. The only thing that would change is the dog on the stick would sport Cleveland orange and brown. Vick would be naive to think these people will ever go away, or that is has anything to do with where he plays. Inevitably, people want to deny him a second chance. Vick has served his time with the law, but many feel he needs to suffer more in the Court of Public Opinion. Whether they are right or wrong, Vick
does need to be more outspoken and active about his crime.

The second home game of the season could be Adopt-a-Puppy Day. The Cleveland APL (Animal Protective League) could partner with Vick to donate money for every touchdown. Commercials promoting season ticket packages could carry a "Love the Dawgs" campaign and be followed by a PETA public service announcement. Of the touchdowns scored, the ones at home in the east end zone should be celebrated with a leap into the arms of John Big Dawg Thompson. Instead of signs reading "Take a Bite Out of Vick " there will now be small children with smiles on their faces with signs saying "Don't Mess With the Dawgs" or "Vick's My Dawg." They may seem like euphemisms, but in their athletic context, they bring closure. The focus is finally back on football.

Cleveland would be the perfect podium for him to speak out and move forward. If the activism also comes with victories attached, everyone would be happy. Michael Vick could become the most beloved figure in this city. That is, if that LeBron guy goes anywhere.

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