MANKATO, Minn. – It has been a long, hot summer for Tarvaris Jackson, much of it spent living up to what Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress says is the young quarterback's motto: Never let 'em see you sweat.
All through July and into early August, as the drama surrounding Brett Favre's return played out and speculation intensified that the Vikings would acquire the legendary passer from the rival Packers, Jackson kept his cool as various reports had him losing his job.
"Tarvaris has a quiet confidence," says Darren Sharper, the Vikings' Pro Bowl safety. "During the Favre situation, he stood up and answered those questions each and every time, saying he's the quarterback of this team and he's ready to lead us. Some guys would've gotten a little flustered, but it didn't faze him at all."
AccuScore on the Vikings
Minnesota, expected to capitalize on an unproven Aaron Rodgers leading the Packers, has the best chance of winning the NFC North. The Vikings' points per game are virtually the same as last season's 22.8 and their points allowed is slightly better than last year thanks to the acquisition of DE Jared Allen. It will be important for Vikings fans not to panic if the team does not get off to a good start. The Vikings are simulation underdogs in Week 1 and 2 vs Green Bay and Indianapolis, respectively. On average, they start the season 6-5, before ending with a 4-1 record.
Minnesota is a top-tier run defense but one of the worst defending the pass. Fortunately, Allen should help alleviate pressure on the secondary by pressuring opposing QBs. In 2008 simulations, Minnesota is allowing 40 fewer passing yards per game than in 2007. If Allen did not have any impact on the Vikings pass defense, the team would finish second to Green Bay on average.
Projected Record: 10-6
Playoff Probability: 65.5%
Added veteran center Matt Birk: "I've always said he's a cool customer and doesn't get rattled. He worked extremely hard this offseason and won the respect of the guys. He's just conducting himself like a pro."
Now that Favre has been traded to the Jets, the truth can be told. For starters, Jackson was very much immersed in the Favre saga, monitoring it on television and, he admits, "wondering what would happen next."
As for that whole calm and collected thing – Childress calls the third-year quarterback "even-keeled, a flat-line guy that never gets too high or too low" – Jackson says that's just a myth.
Asked if keeping his cool was reflective of his personality outside of football, Jackson replies, "It's my Viking football personality. I was different in college."
Jackson, 25, didn't have the luxury of a mellow undergraduate existence. After playing parts of two seasons (for one of which he was granted a redshirt) at Arkansas, Jackson found himself behind future Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Matt Jones on the QB depth chart and transferred to Division I-AA Alabama State. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder fought his way out of obscurity and was not subtle in doing so.
"I would give it to a guy, cuss a guy out," Jackson recalled last Sunday after a Vikings training camp practice at Minnesota State University. "I was just cussing all the time. I'd say, 'Hey, get this (expletive) going.'"
In that sense, was Jackson the Dan Marino of the Southwestern Athletic Conference?
"Oh, definitely," he said, "to the point where guys were probably happy when I left."
Jackson wasn't shy about unloading on opponents, either. In the second quarter of a game at Jackson State during his senior season, he tried to slide at the end of a scramble and took a hard shot to the knee. Lying there on the ground, the panicked passer feared his potential NFL future was slipping away.
"The fans were cheering," Jackson recalls. "The guys on the (Jackson State) team were cheering. I thought I tore something in my knee, and that fried me. I went out, missed one play and came back and scored the next seven times we had the ball and we beat them (44-23). I did a lot of talking then."
Drafted in the second round by the Vikings in '06, Jackson started the final two games of his rookie season and was given the starting job by Childress heading into '07. Minnesota, on the strength of record-setting rookie halfback Adrian Peterson and a dominant run defense, was a surprising playoff contender last season, rebounding from a 3-6 start to win five consecutive games. The Vikes (8-8) missed the postseason after closing with defeats to the Redskins and Broncos, but an offseason trade with the Chiefs for 2007 sack leader Jared Allen made them a trendy pick to contend for a championship in '08.
The only perceived area of concern is at quarterback. Jackson, who last season completed 171 of 294 passes (58.2 percent) for 1,911 yards, with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions, will have to improve appreciably in '08 for Minnesota to make the jump. "If I had made more plays last year," Jackson says, "we'd probably have made the playoffs."
Jackson charged full-bore into the offseason, working out just after dawn the morning after watching Super Bowl XLII from his home in Montgomery, Ala. Though Jackson was rooting for the Giants – "What NFL player do you know that wasn't?" he asks – seeing a team that the Vikings had blown out 41-17 in late November celebrating a championship was enough to convince him to begin his push for a banner '08.
"Nothing really against the Giants, but we beat them pretty bad," Jackson says. "When you see them go out and beat one of the best teams in a long time in the Super Bowl, that's motivation. It lets you know you don't have to have that perfect season to win a championship."
Later Jackson joined Sharper for workouts with trainer Tom Shaw in Orlando. He also embraced the Vikings' offseason program, even coming to the facility on Saturdays for private sessions with quarterbacks coach Kevin Rodgers. "He came early and stayed late," Childress says. "He's built up a lot of equity around here."
Jackson says he still hasn't acquired enough clout to "yell at older guys" – with at least one blatant exception. During one game last season, Jackson was being badgered on the sidelines by 325-pound Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams, a teammate with whom he is friendly, after throwing an interception.
"You throw another (expletive) pick, I'm gonna come out there and choke you right on the sidelines," Williams told Jackson. "Just take what they give you and let us go out there and get you the ball back."
Jackson didn't take Williams' threat well.
"Dawg," he replied, "you say that (expletive) again and I'm gonna fight you."
The two men glared at one another before going their separate ways. They're fine now, but at the time, Jackson definitely wasn't cool.
- Brad Childress