FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Decked out in a headband, T-shirt and shorts, Michael Vick trotted around the practice field on a warm spring afternoon, flicking passes to his young receivers and moving around effortlessly on the right knee that gave him so much trouble last season.
And when he was done with Thursday's offseason workout, Vick delivered a message to the rest of the NFL: Get ready to face the real No. 7 this year.
"I want to be mobile," he said. "I want to be Michael Vick. I want to play my game."
Vick wore a brace on his knee for much of the season, which forced to cut back on his one-of-a-kind running ability. His passing numbers weren't all that great, either, and the Falcons collapsed in the second half of the season to miss the playoffs.
Eager to atone for the disappointing season, Vick has been an avid participant in the Falcons' offseason program for the past month. It's time well spent, giving him a chance to work with new quarterback coach Bill Musgrave and develop a rapport with receivers Michael Jenkins and Roddy White, who've been in the league a total of three seasons.
"We're all trying to get on the same page," Vick said. "I want to throw the ball right at them so they can catch it. I didn't do that all the time last year."
Indeed. Vick ranked 25th in the league in passing efficiency, completing just over 55 percent of his throws for 2,412 yards, with barely more touchdowns (15) than interceptions (13).
He put up similar numbers the previous season, but they weren't so harshly judged because he also carried the ball 120 times for 902 yards while leading the Falcons to the NFC championship game. In 2005, Vick fell off to 597 yards on the ground, which put more of a spotlight on Atlanta's mediocre passing game.
"My knee was bothering me all year," he said. "I never cried about it. I never complained about it. I just tried to do the best I can for the team. Now, I'm 100 percent healthy. I'm where I used to be."
In an effort to maximize Vick's speed and create more running room, the Falcons may take some snaps out of the shotgun this season.
"It doesn't matter whether I'm under center or in the shotgun, as long as I can be on the move," Vick said. "I want to get on the edge so I can show my elusiveness."
While Vick's legs draw most of the attention, he also has one of the strongest arms in the league. Unfortunately for the Falcons, he has yet to take full advantage of it, struggling to adapt to the West Coast offense and lacking confidence in one of the league's most nondescript group of receivers.
Tight end Alge Crumpler led the team with 65 receptions, while Brian Finneran was the only receiver to reach 50 catches. Jenkins - a late first-round pick in 2004 - managed 36 catches in his second season. White, a first-rounder last year, hurt his ankle in training camp and finished his rookie campaign with only 29 receptions.
Musgrave has been focusing on Vick's footwork and trying to get him to put more touch on his throws. Already, White is feeling more comfortable on the other end of Vick's passes.
"There's been a lot of progress between me and Mike," White said. "When I came in last year, he didn't know how fast I was and I didn't know how far he could throw it."
Also, White has bulked up noticeably during the offseason, putting on weight and adding muscle that he hopes will help him get away from cornerbacks who try to crowd him at the line of scrimmage.
The Falcons are eager to turn things around after losing six of their last eight games to finish at .500. Since entering the league in 1966, Atlanta has never had back-to-back winning seasons.
Coach Jim Mora said everyone has been participating in the offseason workouts. He's especially pleased to see Vick getting in some quality time with White and Jenkins.
"This is a low-pressure environment where we can build some camaraderie," he said. "We have two young receivers who need to work with the quarterbacks so they can get a feel for each other."
I'm all kinds of excited to see how he does this year...