ATLANTA -- Two friends of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick are convinced he has been involved in illegal dog fighting at a home he owns in Virginia, they told SI.com on Thursday, despite Vick's denials.
"He knows what's going on in that house in Virginia," one unnamed source told SI.com. "There's not a doubt in my mind he's involved with it."
A second source, quoted by SI.com, said Vick has a longtime "affinity" for the culture surrounding dog fighting.
On Wednesday, Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino said he hopes his star quarterback will soon be cleared of any connection to the dozens of dogs found last month at the home Vick owns in Smithfield, Va. Police were conducting a drug raid on the house at the time the dogs were discovered.
"I need to believe in Michael," said Petrino, the Falcons' coach since January. "Since I've been here, a couple of situations have come up and we've talked about them. His track record with me is that he's told me the truth. I'm going to believe what Michael tells me."
In interviews given during the NFL draft, Vick blamed wayward relatives for taking advantage of his generosity and insisted that he's rarely at the Virginia house -- even though he owns it.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank, contacted by SI.com by phone on Wednesday, also denied insinuations that he has been soft on his $130 million quarterback.
"There's no coddling going on here,'' Blank said to SI.com. "Whatever is 180 degrees from that, that's the reality. The [financial] investment we've made in him has nothing to do with the way we treat him. When Michael has done something wrong that has been documented, we've had very direct conversations with him. We don't have all the facts of the [dog fighting] investigation, but obviously the story's not developing well. Which is one of the reasons why I asked [commissioner Roger Goodell] to speak to Michael about the situation and to be as stern as he felt he needed to be.''
Vick told ESPN during the draft that he had met face-to-face with Goodell in late April. In the interview, Vick pledged he would make changes in his life.
"I'm taking it upon myself and giving everybody my word that things are going to get changed around," Vick said in the interview. "Things are going to get turned around. I have a game plan for it. ... The company I keep, a lot of things [have] got to change, and I mean that from the heart."
Blank added that he expects Vick's behavior to change.
"I would say Michael understands, and I told him he is in essence on a short leash,'' Blank told SI.com. "His behavior cannot go on this way. His actions need to be different; his decisions need to be different. He can't just talk about changing things, he has to change his life. He says he understands, and I'm hoping he's being truthful with us and wants to deal with it. I hope he has the personal strength. I think it's very appropriate to say he's at a crossroads.''
Vick does have an apparent interest in breeding animals such as pit bulls and Rottweilers. A Web site for "Mike Vick K-9 Kennels'' includes a disclaimer that any of its dogs are used for fighting, which is banned nationwide and is a felony in 48 states, including Virginia and Georgia.
Another Web site for an Atlanta-area breeder, Sanders Kennels, shows a picture of Vick holding a Presa Canario puppy, an animal that it says is "bred for loyalty, protection, guarding, and peace of mind. They can and will protect.''
The Falcons begin a three-day minicamp this weekend, with Petrino looking to install his offense and see what several rookies might bring to his team.
"This weekend is a situation where we have to focus everything on football," Petrino said. "That's what I'm going to talk about over the weekend. We only have five practices and one mandatory minicamp. We've got to take all the distractions, put them on the shelf and concentrate on football. I'm going to instruct our team to do that."
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report