Tarvaris Jackson (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
While his teammates gave Tarvaris Jackson a vote of confidence before leaving Winter Park on Wednesday, head coach Brad Childress on Thursday stopped short of putting an end to the quarterback speculation in Minnesota.
Although Vikings coach Brad Childress said that he was happy with some of the progress quarterback Tarvaris Jackson made in 2007, Childress stopped short of giving Jackson an unequivocal vote of confidence as the team’s starting quarterback in 2008.
Childress said the position coaches and coordinators are writing up their evaluations on players this week and that he will meet with them and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman next week. He called Jackson’s evaluation process “ongoing.”
“I thought he just continued to make progress as we went through, and hopefully that’s a things-to-come picture of what you saw (at Denver) in the last five minutes playing wide open and cutting loose with it and making plays with his arm and his feet,” Childress said at his season-ending press conference on Thursday.
In the season finale, Jackson threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns and ran for the two-point conversions following each of them as the Vikings rallied to tie the game 19-19 and send it into overtime. However, on the first possession of overtime, Jackson left the ball exposed while he was being sack and fumbled it away to the Broncos, who kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play. It was a microcosm of Jackson’s up-and-down season in his first year as the full-time starter.
He went 8-4 in his 12 starts in 2007, missing three games with thumb and groin injuries and a concussion. On the negative side, he had 12 interceptions and lost two fumbles while throwing only nine touchdowns.
Maybe because of that uneven performance over the long haul, Childress wasn’t willing to say he was comfortable with Jackson as the starter in 2008.
“I don’t know that it’s ever good to get comfortable, but I’m glad that I saw progress from him, positive progress from him,” Childress said. “He, as I mentioned to you as everybody does, has a lot of things that they collectively and individually need to improve on. So we’ll just see if those things come to fruition as we keep moving.”
Jackson ended the season with a 70.8 passer rating, in the bottom third of NFL starters this season, but his rating improved to 82.9 over the final seven games as the Vikings went 5-2 in that stretch.
However, Childress said his lack of public commitment to Jackson isn’t a ploy to motivate the young quarterback who will enter his third NFL season in 2008.
“I’m not interested in trying to motivate him by leaving a cloud of doubt. He knows exactly how I feel about him, and again those are conversations that are between coach and quarterback,” Childress said.
On Wednesday, Jackson said he would assume he’s the starter until told otherwise since he started the final game of the season. Asked about that assessment on Thursday, Childress said, “If you started the last game, that would probably be pretty good to start with.”
Childress said the Vikings would continue to work with Jackson during the offseason, starting with the beginning of the offseason program on March 17. Vikings coaches aren’t allowed to work with Jackson in his hometown of Montgomery, Ala., but Jackson can come up to Minnesota of his own volition to get started early.
“We start back here in March just pulling the whole thing back apart without the feeling like your head is in a vise. Things that you didn’t see, little things that you know now that you didn’t know when you first started this thing, and I think that’s where guys grow within the system,” Childress said. “Where there is complete comfort, they are painting a picture with words, and they just know where all of the idiosyncrasies are. They know everything that is going on on the defensive side, if they get a tell from a safety.”
Jackson appears to have made some progress in his first year directing the offense as the starter. All but 600 of his 1,911 passing yards on the season came during the final seven games of the season. Despite that, Childress’ statements on Thursday left fans and media to read between the lines when it comes to the long-term future of Tarvaris Jackson.