FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (May 9, 2007) -- Bobby Petrino has known Michael Vick for only a few months. That's long enough for the Atlanta Falcons' coach to believe his biggest star wasn't involved in an alleged dog-fighting operation.
Petrino said he hopes the star quarterback will soon be cleared of any connection to the dozens of dogs found last month at a home he owns in Virginia.
"I need to believe in Michael," said Petrino, who was hired by the Falcons in January to replace Jim Mora. "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 a couple of interviews given during the NFL draft, Vick blamed wayward relatives for taking advantage of his generosity and insisted that he's rarely at the house in Smithfield, Va., where the dogs were found -- even though he's the owner.
While those are Vick's only public comments on the matter, he has met with Petrino, general manager Rich McKay and Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
"Michael is working very closely with his attorney to resolve the situation in Virginia," Petrino said. "I've certainly spoken to Michael about it. We're hoping for a positive and quick outcome."
The new coach clearly wants to get the issue off his plate as soon as possible. The Falcons hold a three-day minicamp this weekend, a crucial phase in the installation of Petrino's offensive scheme and the chance to break in several key rookies.
"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."
Clearly, Petrino's message has gotten across with his players. Two of the team's most prominent leaders, running back Warrick Dunn and safety Lawyer Milloy, shied away from questions about Vick.
"It's still up to the individual to make their choices," Milloy said. "They reap the benefits when they make good choices. They suffer the consequences when they make bad choices. That's all I'm going to say about that."
Added Dunn, "Right now, everybody is just concentrating on football and not really talking about anything that's been dealt to our quarterback. Obviously, those are his issues. He has to deal with them."
Vick has been a big part of the Falcons' offseason program -- working out with his teammates, meeting with the coaches and studying film of the new scheme, which will require him to take a more active role in the offense.
"Every day he comes to work and tries to leave all that behind him," Dunn said. "There are new expectations for him, a new system. He's maturing in the game of football now that he understands his role. He knows he doesn't have to do it all by himself. If he can really learn the system, get comfortable with it and utilize his teammates, we should be fine. Other than that, his personal life, he has to handle that."
The Falcons say they can't comment on the specifics of the dog-fighting case until officials in Virginia reach a decision on whether to file charges. The prosecutor handling the case and the sheriff who oversaw the raid have not responded to repeated requests for interviews during the past two weeks.
Vick's cousin, who lived at the home, was the target of a drug case that led authorities to search the property. Investigators reported finding dozens of dogs -- some of them injured and malnourished -- along with items associated with organized fighting, such as treadmills for training, jaw-prying sticks, veterinary drugs commonly used to treat wounds and blood-soaked carpeting.
"We believe there is a chance for a positive outcome," Petrino said. "But it's really an ongoing investigation and there is not much more we can say about it. We'll let it play itself out."
Petrino said the case actually seems to have strengthened Vick's resolve to prove his detractors wrong. Last season, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards but ranked near the bottom of the league's passing statistics as the Falcons missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
"It's given him a chance to focus more," Petrino said. "Since the incident happened, he's been in the building more. He's spent more time watching video, throwing the football and working out. He comes here with a chance to do what he loves doing. He's taken it upon himself to learn the offense.
"Maybe it's motivated him to be the opposite of being a distraction."