Brooks Bollinger (Tom Olmscheid/AP)
Brooks Bollinger has been all over the Vikings’ depth chart at quarterback in only seven games this season. It seems too typical of his career, and he’ll have to just sit and see how Tarvaris Jackson’s fractured finger progresses to know if he’ll start or sit on Sunday against the Chargers.
It seemed somehow fitting that the Vikings met the media on Halloween Day. The livelihood of the franchise has been in a downward spiral for one year and one day since the 4-2 Vikings were looking to make a statement against the New England Patriots Oct. 30, 2006 on “Monday Night Football.” Instead, a statement was made to them by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – a good quarterback can beat down an opponent without even trying to run the ball.
Losing has become all too familiar for the Minnesota Vikings over the last 366 days. Starting with the Oct. 30 shellacking by the Patriots last year, the Vikings have lost 13 of their last 17 games – the worst marks in the NFL during that span.
What frustrated Vikings coaches, players and fans this season isn’t so much that the team has been losing – but it’s how they’re losing. Despite having a 2-5 record, Minnesota has only been outscored by six points (137-131). Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions are 5-2 and have been outscored by their opponents by 22 points (178-156). The Vikings have been close in every game, but have found ways to lose – by three points to the Lions and Chiefs and by identical 23-16 scores to Green Bay and Philadelphia.
Frustration has set in and nowhere is it more evident than at the quarterback position. Every week seems to bring a new challenge to the Minnesota quarterback corps. After parting ways with Brad Johnson in the offseason, the Vikings believed they had the combination in Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger to get the job done. At the end of the preseason, that was deemed not to be the case and the Vikings traded a late-round draft pick to get Kelly Holcomb.
That is when the carousel began. Jackson and the Vikings won their season opener against Atlanta with Jackson finishing the game. He was injured in Week 2 vs. the Lions and Bollinger finished the game. Holcomb played the next two games heading into the bye. Jackson returned to make two starts vs. the Bears and Cowboys, but an injured index finger on his throwing hand had Holcomb back in the starting lineup. But, when Eagles DE Juqua Thomas slammed Holcomb’s head into the turf, Bollinger was back in.
With all of their games being in doubt of winning or losing in the fourth quarter of the seven games they have played this season, Jackson has finished three, Holcomb has finished two and Bollinger has finished two.
With Jackson apparently going to be given the chance to take over, Bollinger again finds himself in a position to not get the reps as a starter, but needing to be ready in case Jackson falters again.
“That’s my job description,” Bollinger said. “You always know that you’re just one snap away and you have to be ready. Whether it’s the second play of the game or the last play, you have to be ready to go out and execute. It’s a lot of mental work to keep yourself prepared and focused.”
Jackson was injured in the second half of the Dallas game and aggravated the injury on a sack late in the game. The day after the game, he couldn’t bend his index finger and it was placed in a splint. That, combined with his ongoing recovery from a groin injury, and Jackson has been less than 100 percent since Week 2. But Jackson knows the reality. So does Bollinger. When the word comes down from head coach Brad Childress that Jackson is seen fit to play, he will.
“Obviously, if Tarvaris is healthy, he’s going to be the guy,” Bollinger said. “I accept my role and do everything I can to preparing to be ready to go in if the situation should arise.”
For his part, Jackson was getting his first full test of the finger today as the Vikings began to install their game plan for the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. The true test will likely come early Thursday morning when Jackson wakes up after letting his injured finger lay dormant for several hours. If it swells back up, his availability for Sunday will drop considerably. But, as of Wednesday, it was “all signs point to yes” on Jackson’s Magic 8-Ball.
“I feel a lot better,” Jackson said. “The soreness went down on (the right index finger) and it’s not as swollen as it was. It’s a lot better.”
In the meantime, Bollinger continues his yo-yo act on the Vikings roster. He spent the first two games as the No. 2 quarterback behind Jackson and then spent the next two as the No. 2 guy behind Holcomb. After two games as the No. 3 QB behind both of them, he was back as the No. 2 QB behind Holcomb Sunday – until having to come in as the No. 1 option in the second half.
When asked if he’s ever had such a stretch of bouncing up and down the depth chart, Bollinger had to laugh because, in many ways, that has defined his pro career from the very beginning.
“Too many times, brother,” Bollinger chuckled. “My rookie year in the third preseason game, (Jets quarterback) Chad (Pennington) went down for six weeks. All of the sudden, I went from being No. 3 to No. 2. Vinny (Testaverde) was starting. We had our first game at Washington against the Redskins and I was like ‘Wow! I’m backing up Vinny,’ who was 40-something at the time. I was like, ‘Welcome to the NFL.’”
The 2007 season for Bollinger has been an even steeper roller-coaster considering the NFL climate in which quarterbacks continue to move from one team to another and players like Testaverde, Tim Rattay and Todd Bouman have been hired out of their homes to come back to play. Bollinger knows that his success or lack thereof is being noticed and that he not only could find himself starting Sunday, he could find himself hanging on just to keep his job.
“You see it all across the league, especially this year,” Bollinger said of quarterback injuries. “Guys are switching teams. They’re coming from off the street. The bottom line is that you never know what will happen. Nobody cares where you were last week or what your situation is. When you step on the field, you’re putting it on tape and you have to go out and execute.”
As the Vikings wait out until Thursday morning to see if there were any ill-effects of giving Jackson’s ailing finger its first real workout, the quarterback attached to that finger waits to see if it is going to be a green light for Sunday. Bollinger waits to see if he will get the call or if his future with the team is even assured. A lot of players are coming off the unemployment line and others – like Aaron Brooks, Chris Weinke and even six-years-M.I.A. former top pick Jeff George – wait by their phones looking to step into a new situation.
The sleeping tonight won’t be easy as for Jackson or Bollinger because both of their short-term fates might be determined by the same injured finger – a thought scarier for Bollinger than any Halloween slasher film.