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QB works Wednesday with team

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- He worked with the scout team. He kept his running in low gear. There were no dazzling moves, no 70-yard passes.

Still, this was a significant breakthrough.

Michael Vick was back.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback practiced Wednesday for the
first time since breaking his right leg in a preseason game,
raising hopes that he'll soon be ready to play. He has set Nov. 30
in Houston as his target.

"I think I handled it pretty well," Vick said after the
two-hour practice. "Toward the end, it got kind of sore on me. But
that's what I expected. That's a good thing."

The rest of the team was already on the field when Vick trotted
out from the locker room, wearing his No. 7 jersey and carrying his
shoulder pads. At least a dozen cameramen and photographers
documented every step.

Practice was uneventful. Vick served as the third-team
quarterback behind Kurt Kittner and Doug Johnson, which meant
working with the scout team and backups.

At times, Vick appeared to be favoring his leg, and he didn't
show off any of his celebrated running skills. Still, the Falcons
were glad to have him back in uniform.

"I didn't have any expectations because I really didn't know
how much he could do," coach Dan Reeves said. "I was definitely
pleased that he did as much as he did."

No one was more pumped up than Vick.

"I asked him how he felt," Reeves said. "He said, 'Coach, I
couldn't sleep last night. I was so excited to come out and start
practicing.' That's what showed up, the excitement he had all day
long."

Vick can't get back soon enough for the Falcons (2-7), who have
slumped badly without their Pro Bowl quarterback. Last year, they
reached the second round of the playoffs. This season, they had
lost seven in a row before beating the New York Giants 27-7 on Sunday.

Vick's return to practice certainly piqued the interest of
Atlanta's fans. After Reeves revealed it during a morning news
conference, the team's Web site jumped from 10,000 hits an hour to
35,000.

"I've been through a lot -- a lot of rehab, a lot of
treatment," Vick said. "Then, watching my team struggle. It took
a lot out of me. It's just a joy to be out here. I'm thankful to be
back."

Not surprisingly, Vick and Reeves were vague about when the
quarterback might play. No one knows how good the leg will feel
from one day to the next. No one knows if there will be some
setbacks along the way.

Vick broke his right fibula in an Aug. 16 exhibition against the
Ravens. Initially, the prognosis called for him to return within
six to 10 weeks, but the rehab has now dragged on for nearly three
months.

There's still plenty of work.

Vick frequently underthrew or overthrew the receivers on
Wednesday. And he's not ready to begin trying out any of the
rollouts or runs.

"I ran a couple of days ago and I was able to cut," Vick said.
"But I can cut better to my left than I can to my right. I'm
trying to do some things that can help me cut better to my right."

He also he must get over the mental hurdle of trusting the leg.

"I've been conscious of that for the past two months, trying
to protect it, trying not to hurt it," Vick admitted. "Once I get
into it, I lose sight of trying to protect it. I've got to get to
the point where that's what I'm doing all the time."

It's going to take time. Teammate Todd Weiner was sidelined for
six games in 1999 with a similar injury, and it took a full year
before the soreness completely subsided.

Vick said it's doubtful he'll dress for Sunday's game at New
Orleans, even as the emergency quarterback.

A year ago, Vick was voted to the Pro Bowl in his first season
as a starter, and he set several NFL rushing records for a
quarterback. His signature play was a 46-yard touchdown scamper
that beat Minnesota in overtime and left Viking defenders
scattered all over the Metrodome turf.

The Falcons haven't been the same since Vick was injured.
Johnson started the first six games at quarterback, but costly
turnovers and questionable decisions led to his benching.

Kittner will make his fourth straight start at New Orleans, even
though his efficiency rating is an abysmal 40.0. He knows he's just
holding down the job until Vick returns.

"He does a lot of things that no one in the league can do,"
Kittner said. "It'll be exciting to have him back."