Michael Vick will tell you he is a far different player -- a far different person, too -- than he was when coach Dan Reeves brought him to the Falcons in 2001 as a brash, cocky and ultimately misguided individual.
''When I first came into the league,'' he said, ''I was young. I come from a different background than most guys, so things were kind of spicy for me. I had a tendency not to listen and kind of did things my own way.''
His own way extended from the way he played football to the way he lived his life, and we all know how that turned out.
He committed heinous acts as part of an illegal dogfighting operation that came to light in 2007. He served 21 months in the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., because he and his cohorts routinely killed underperforming dogs, behavior so barbaric that it tests the limits of comprehension of anyone with even an ounce of compassion for any living thing.
Had Vick not been caught and prosecuted for those illegal acts, who knows what might have happened? Who knows whether he might have kept his secret and continued to play for the Falcons, for whom he started his career as a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Reeves, who drafted Vick and coached him through the 2003 season, was told by Vick's college coach, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, that he had to keep a close eye on his quarterback. The illegal dogfighting operation Vick was associated with started in 2002, but Reeves said he was unaware of Vick's involvement.
''I had no indications it was going on,'' Reeves said Saturday from his home in Atlanta. ''I don't think he was doing it , but I don't know that. I was not aware of it. If I did, I would have brought him in and talked to him, believe me.
''I tried to keep in touch with the people he associated with,'' Reeves said. ''We were very conscious of talking with him every week, trying to see if everything was OK. That's your franchise and that's your quarterback. You want to see him do well.''
Reeves, who remains in contact with Vick and follows his career closely, believes the 33-year-old quarterback is a changed person, an athlete who has matured -- a man who has seen the error of his ways after spending almost two years in prison and losing millions in salary and endorsements.
''He made a huge mistake, no question about it,'' Reeves said. ''But he paid for it and has tried to move on. He's trying to be a good father and do the things maybe he missed out on growing up because he really didn't have a father figure.''
Vick understands he will not be forgiven by many people for what he did to all those dogs. Yet he has gone to great lengths to not only accept his past but learn from it and help other at-risk youth from becoming involved in dogfighting. Vick has partnered with the Humane Society of America and spent much of his time speaking out against animal cruelty.
''Michael Vick was a role model for many young people, and he lost everything because of what he did to dogs,'' according to an article on the society's website. ''His story is the strongest possible example of why dogfighting is a dead end. Just as former drug addicts are able to reach people struggling with addiction, former dogfighters are some of the most effective voices against this crime. We realized the potential that Vick has to reach at-risk youth and pull them out of the quicksand of animal fighting.''
Vick is expected to continue his efforts in speaking out against dogfighting, but his main focus now is getting a chance to compete for a starting job with the Jets. The team signed him to a one-year, $5-million deal Friday and he'll get the opportunity to beat out incumbent second-year quarterback Geno Smith.
He does so with a more mature attitude as a player and as a person.
''I've learned a lot of lessons throughout time,'' he said. ''If I could have done it all over again, would I? Yeah, I would. And I'm pretty sure we all could say the same thing in that regard. But I'm just accepting where I'm at now, thanking God that I still have an opportunity to play. Thanking God that my body is still in tiptop condition to move and be able to do the things I've done the last couple of years. And hopefully I'm able to play some more football, and I think I will be able to.''
Reeves believes Vick is up to the challenge.
''I think there's a great chance that he'll start,'' Reeves said. ''He does things that you don't teach. He's just got unbelievable athletic ability. One thing he has to do, though, is protect himself [from injury]. He has to learn to throw the ball away. Sometimes the worst thing in the world is not punting the football. But I do think he can come out of this and be the starter. He does some amazing things, and he'll be good for the Jets.''