Vikes' Jackson better equipped to handle circus

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

MANKATO, Minn. – Tarvaris Jackson(notes) woke up Tuesday feeling fine. He walked onto the field at Minnesota Vikings training camp unaware that anything was up.

Then fellow quarterback Sage Rosenfels(notes) pulled him aside and told him the news: There were reports that Brett Favre(notes) was retiring. Then a fan shouted something like: "Tarvaris, how does it feel to be the new starting quarterback? Brett's not coming back!"

"I just ignored it," Jackson said.

However, coach Brad Childress said something about the situation to the team after practice, and then Jackson couldn't ignore it anymore. The media mobbed him.

Jackson was jovial enough to joke that Favre questions had become such a part of his life, he "actually might miss it."

Just another day at the office.

"Pretty much," Jackson said Thursday. "You've just got to block that stuff out and keep pushing."

There has been a lot of stuff to block out. Virtually, the same Favre drama played out at this time last year. Will the ol' gunslinger suit up for one more season with the Vikings? Or will the job fall to Jackson?

In truth though, the stuff started long before this.

Jackson, a second-round pick of the Vikings in the 2006 NFL draft, has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness. In 2008, a year before Favre's arrival, Jackson was benched for Gus Frerotte(notes) after an 0-2 start, got hot after Frerotte got hurt late in the season, then played poorly in a 26-14 wild-card playoff loss to Philadelphia. The lowlight of his last start: a pick-six to Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel(notes).

"[It's] not the last year," Jackson said. "The last three, four years of my career has been different for me. It's been a difficult situation."

And there is no end in sight.

Favre reportedly will play if he's healthy enough, which means Jackson is unlikely to see the field. Say what you want about Favre's waffling and broken-down body: When the man makes a commitment, it's ironclad. He has started an NFL-record 285 consecutive games.

Meanwhile, people already are talking about Donovan McNabb(notes) reuniting with Childress, his former offensive coordinator in Philly, if Favre plays only one more year and McNabb doesn't sign an extension in Washington.

To keep his head on straight, Jackson leans on what he learned as a psychology major at Alabama State.

"I observe people a lot, more than people think," said Jackson, who threw just 21 passes last season. "I sit back a lot and just watch guys, listen."

So what's his psychoanalysis of Favre?

"The guy loves to play the game," Jackson said. "He's kind of like me – a confused young man sometimes."

Young? Favre's 40.

"That was the joke," Jackson, 27, said with a smile. "He's [entitled] to that. He can take his time on that situation. He's a good guy. But like I said, I sit back and observe everybody. So I just … I keep my evaluations to myself."

Jackson laughed.

A year ago, he might not have handled this as well. He might have taken it personally when a teammate said losing Favre would be a "big setback," as tight end Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) did Tuesday. He might have been discouraged that the Vikings feel such a need to have Favre, they reportedly offered him as much as $7 million above his $13 million salary to return. And when some TV talking head said the Vikings couldn't go to the Super Bowl with Tarvaris Jackson?

"That stuff usually would have gotten to me," Jackson said. "I would be pissed off and angry and stuff. But people are entitled to their own opinion. I understand that.

"I always understood that. But me being the player I am, I love to play the game. I have a passion for it, so when people doubt you, it kind of makes you mad."

But it's hard to argue with Favre's results last season, and observing Favre was good for Jackson on many levels.

"Brett's a great example," offensive coordinator Darren Bevell said. "He's been there and done that. It isn't his first rodeo. When some things are said to him, he knows just to let that go and not take it in. Tarvaris was trying to take everything in, and sometimes that hampers him a little bit."

T-Jack has talent. He can throw and run. He can sparkle in a seven-on-seven passing drill. But as Childress likes to say, seven-on-seven is not the real world. No pass rush. No blitzing.

It is under pressure where Jackson has struggled, and it is under pressure where Favre made the difference last season – until a critical third-and-15 in the NFC title game against the Saints. Favre knows this offense in his bones. He anticipates what the defense is going to do. He knows all the tricks. Whether or not Favre's return is a wink-and-a-handshake deal, his absence from camp serves multiple purposes: It allows Favre to rest his ailing ankle. It allows Jackson to apply what he's learned from Favre, taking the No. 1 reps, and the Vikings to evaluate him.

"I think [Jackson] has grown up a lot," Bevell said. "I think last year was a great year for him, just in terms of being able to sit back and see exactly what this offense can do. Sometimes we are trying to tell him, tell him, tell him, and he has a great picture in front of him that he had an opportunity to look at day in and day out. He is better in every way at this point."

Bevell pointed to a little thing Jackson picked up from Favre: using hard counts to draw opponents offside. Jackson pointed to bigger things: He said he recognizes coverages and blitzes quicker. Wide receiver Bernard Berrian(notes) said Jackson seems more confident.

"When you've got confidence in yourself, you're going to make all the throws – the correct throws, the right reads – and just get the ball to the right players," Berrian said. "He's a great athlete. He can be a great quarterback in this league. He's just got to take advantage of what he's got and use the opportunities he's got and use all the weapons he's got out here."

The bottom line: One day, the Favre retirement talk will be true. Jackson had better be ready.

"No quarterback has been through quite the situation I've been through," Jackson said. "I feel like it's going to pay off in the future. I feel like I've grown from it as a person and as a player. Hopefully one day I'll look back on this and say it helped me a lot."

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