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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Tony Dungy's work with Michael Vick is laudable

The former Colts coach, now heavily involved in a prison ministry, has been instrumental in helping the quarterback who spent 18 months in prison on a dogfighting conviction.

August 16, 2009|SAM FARMER

PHILADELPHIA — It's really no mystery why NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked Tony Dungy to continue to mentor Michael Vick as the quarterback makes his controversial transition back to the league.

Since retiring as Indianapolis Colts coach in January, Dungy has devoted most of his waking hours to his prison ministry, helping inmates reshape their lives through spirituality. Now, he has turned his attention to Vick. In fact, without Dungy vouching for him, there's no way Vick -- who spent 18 months behind bars for running a dogfighting operation -- could have come back.

Time will tell whether Vick is sincere about changing his ways or just saying what he needs to say to complete his comeback. But it's hard to find fault with the involvement of Dungy, who emerged from personal tragedy -- the 2005 suicide of his son James -- even stronger in his faith.

After Vick's introductory news conference Friday at Philadelphia Eagles headquarters, Dungy spoke to a small group of reporters about his three-hour meeting with the quarterback last spring at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.

"I talked to him about where he wanted to go in the future," Dungy said. "That's one of the things my dad always used to say to me when he was alive. 'Don't worry about where you are so much. What are you going to do to make it better?' And that's what I kept asking Mike. 'Where are you going to go from here?'

"And the other thing I asked him was where the Lord was in all this. We talked about him growing up and having that side, that Christian background, but really getting to the NFL and feeling like he was his own guy. Somewhere in the course of all this he realized that he had left that spiritual side. When he kind of described that to me and the fact that he needed to get back closer to the Lord, that's when I said, 'I'm going to stay involved in this. I'm going to help you.' "

Dungy, 53, said he has had similar talks with "hundreds of players" over the last several years -- not about dogfighting necessarily, but the array of problems many of them tend to encounter.

"You have those conversations with a lot of guys when you say, 'What was going on in your mind when you were driving 140 mph at 1 o'clock in the morning, racing against one of your buddies?' " he said. "And it doesn't seem rational, but when you've grown up in that environment, or you've done it and you don't think anything's wrong with it. . . . Or it's, 'What was going on with you when you were smoking marijuana?' And they say, 'Coach, I've been around marijuana my whole life. My parents smoked it. Everybody I know smokes it. What are you talking about?'

"Dogfighting is just one situation. I've dealt with guys, and they don't see the harm in it. But eventually the light goes on and they change. That's part of coaching, that's part of being a parent, that's part of helping young people grow into adulthood."

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Desert battle

There's an interesting position battle brewing in Arizona, and it doesn't concern a spot in the starting lineup. Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt has opened the competition for the No. 2 quarterback job behind Kurt Warner, with Matt Leinart and Brian St. Pierre vying for that role.

If the competition is a toss-up, Leinart keeps his job. It's hard to imagine Whisenhunt bumping the No. 10 pick in 2006 for a guy who has been a third-stringer his entire career, but St. Pierre will get a look.

In Arizona's 20-10 exhibition loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday, Leinart was eight for 14 for 83 yards, and St. Pierre connected on six of 10 for 53.

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The thin man

Detroit quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was carrying a lot of extra weight last season, has trimmed down considerably and looks closer to the way he did in his days with Minnesota. Insiders say he has gone from nearly 300 pounds to around 260, which should really help him, especially if he's going to keep the starting quarterback job warm until rookie Matt Stafford is ready.

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Brady is back

Time to exhale for the New England Patriots. They have to be pleased with the way Tom Brady looked Thursday in his first game back on his reconstructed left knee. He was 10 for 15 for 100 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran a successful quarterback sneak.

"Yeah, I was just going to hold the ball in the pocket, and cuddle up with it," he joked afterward. "No, finally on the quarterback sneak, I was saying, 'God, I just wish someone would come and blast me.' And you get a little of that anxiousness out of the way. But I'll have to wait until next week. The offensive line did a great job. They're the ones to be thanked."

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Tweet of the week

(@BobGlauber) Couple observations from Ravens' camp: Joe Flacco has "it" as a quarterback.His presence is unmistakable. So is his deep ball . . .

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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