ATLANTA -- On a day when he undertook his most extensive work yet in practice, and moved up from the "scout" team to the second-unit offense, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick demonstrated enough improvement that coach Dan Reeves allowed that the third-year veteran could see his first action of the season this weekend.
Reeves earlier in the day announced that backup Doug Johnson, despite a record of 1-6, would again start for the Falcons (2-9). He stopped just shy in his weekly Wednesday media briefing, of ruling Vick out for the game, a contest the electrifying quarterback had weeks ago targeted for his return, following the broken right fibula he sustained in preseason.
But after the team's Wednesday afternoon practice, Reeves conceded he was pleasantly surprised by Vick's performance, and acknowledged there is now some chance he could be the No. 2 quarterback on Sunday afternoon.
Team officials will not make a determination on Vick's status until after the Thursday practice. But it appears that, if Vick gets through that session without any more physical ramifications, he will dress on Sunday and serve as the primary backup.
"If he's the second guy [Thursday], and Doug goes down, then he had better be ready to play," Reeves said.
Injured in an Aug. 19 exhibition contest, Vick only returned to the "team" segments of practice last week, but his rehabilitation suffered a setback when backup guard Martin Bibla stepped on the quarterback's ankle. Bibla was pushed back into Vick when middle linebacker Keith Brooking nudged the guard on a blitz.
In the wake of that injury, some here speculated Vick might not play at all this season, and some members of the local media strongly suggested that Falcons officials simply shut him down for 2003 and allow him to look toward the 2004 campaign.
Vick said he didn't know yet if he would or could play on Sunday, noting the decision probably will depend on how sore the ankle is on Thursday, and whether he can get in a second straight full day of work. Assuming the ankle is not a problem for Vick, who is said to have thrown the ball with velocity and accuracy on Wednesday, he will work the balance of the week as the No. 2 quarterback.
"[The ankle] felt really good," Vick said after practice. "The object of today was to come out and test it, and do some things, and see how it held up. I'm not sure right now, so we will see how it feels [Thursday]."
It is believed that Falcons coaches and club officials would prefer Vick work a series or two in a game before he gets his first start of the year.
Vick said he does not yet feel comfortable outside the pocket, because he hasn't worked on that aspect of the game yet, and Reeves not such a test is imminent.
"He's got to do everything, to see if he can do it," Reeves said. "If he can't do it, then he doesn't need to be out there. We'll see. He is the one who's got to judge it. He's got to tell us how he feels. If he feels he can protect himself, well, great."