The talk of the Vikings since the beginning of free agency has been the trade for quarterback Sage Rosenfels. To many, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Rosenfels will become the Vikings’ starter and that Tarvaris Jackson will remain on the bench. But, as head coach Brad Childress pointed out at the press conference announcing the trade, Rosenfels will be competing with Jackson for the starting spot – a challenge Jackson said he is prepared for and ready to fight to win.
“I’ve been in this offense three years, going on four now,” Jackson told Sirius NFL Radio this week. “I know exactly what’s going on in the offense. I know exactly what they want. I understand the detail a lot better right now. Right now, it’s about putting my signature on it and taking it to the next level.”
Following an offseason of nothing but glowing praise of Jackson heading into the 2008 season, a knee injury suffered in the preseason when he was tackled by Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens hurt more than his leg. After two lackluster starts, Jackson was benched in favor of Gus Frerotte. A subsequent injury to Frerotte opened the door back up for Jackson, who looked very good against Detroit and Arizona, only to look worse against the Giants and considerably worse against the Eagles in the playoffs. Jackson said erasing that image from the public’s mind won’t be easy, but must serve as a learning experience.
“People are going to remember my last game and I didn’t play as well my last game,” Jackson said. “It was good to get the experience, but at the same time I would rather have did a lot better.”
Jackson was given a lot of faith from Childress and the coaching staff since his arrival in Minnesota. His benching behind Frerotte after two games last season was the first crack in that relationship. Some view the signing of Rosenfels as a larger vote of no confidence in the young quarterback, but T-Jack said he still believes Childress has his back and will give him a fair chance to win the starting job.
“I hope he’s still behind me,” Jackson said in his radio interview. “I’m pretty sure (he is). I know all my coaches are. My quarterbacks coach (Kevin Rogers), he has been with me since day one trying to help me out, doing anything possible to help me out, whether it was studying harder, trying to give me different tips. He’s been with me since day one and I really appreciate it. All the guys have. I just hope I can reward those guys by winning football games for them and go out there just doing my best and taking them to the playoffs and maybe farther.”
Jackson said he didn’t take recent comments from new Seattle wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh personally – in an interview following his signing, he said the quarterback situation with Minnesota and Seattle made the difference in where he signed. While some viewed it as an indictment of Jackson, he believes it was more a tip of the hat to veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck than laying a bad rap on Jackson.
“Matt Hasselbeck took his team to the Super Bowl, he won some games in Seattle,” Jackson said. “He’s an older guy, experienced guy. With my situation that I’ve been in, not in the lineup, and now we have Sage, he’s been kind of in and out of the lineup in Houston and his prior teams to that. That was (Houshmandzadeh’s) decision and I wish him the best in Seattle. Not to take anything away from Seattle but we feel like we’re farther along than they are as far as the team goes. Matt Hasselbeck is a big part of their team and he was pretty much hurt for the whole year last year. So that probably hindered them a little bit. But they’ve got a lot of receivers, they have a lot of talent out there in Seattle, so he made the decision to go out there. I guess that’s where he felt more comfortable at.”
The apprehension Houshmandzadeh had for the Vikings has been mirrored by the Vikings fan base. While the fans have seen Jackson make improvements to his game, some of the same problems he had two years ago remain and the frustration among fans has been that the Vikings have won despite their quarterback, not because of their quarterback. When asked if he believes the fans are behind him, Jackson said he really isn’t positive one way or the other.
“I really don’t know, honestly,” Jackson said. “A lot of fans that I know are behind me, but there are also naysayers. Different fans have their different opinions. When I got drafted (in the second round in 2006), they were like, ‘Maybe they shouldn’t have drafted this guy.’ No one knew who I was from a smaller black school. No one really knew who I was, so there has been doubt since day one about me – about me being a Viking, about me being a franchise quarterback. But that’s kind of what makes the world go around. That’s what kind of makes guys work harder, that’s what makes me work harder. Not saying that I’m not going to work harder anyway but that’s part of the game. There’s always going to be naysayers, there’s going to be guys that say, ‘OK, I like this guy,’ and guys that say, ‘I don’t like this guy.’ But I’m pretty sure there are some Vikings fans that are behind me and I appreciate that.”
Whether loved or not, Jackson said the role of the quarterback with this team will be critical to the success of the franchise, which he is convinced is close to make the jump to the next level. Winning the division title was an achievement last year, but taking the next step up is the goal for 2009.
“We’re so hungry for more than that,” Jackson said of the team’s first division title since 2000. “We’re hungry for playing in the Super Bowl and we know we have the pieces now. If we were a mediocre team and we won the division title, it would probably be a different reaction, but we feel like we’re a Super Bowl football team.”
The Vikings are convinced they can make that leap to the elite of the NFL in 2009. The only question as far as Jackson is concerned is whether he’ll be doing his part on the field or watching the action from the sidelines.
The Vikings continue to wait to see if the Bengals are going to extend a contract offer to Naufahu Tahi, but the team is keeping its own options open. The Vikings are said to be one of a handful of teams interested in Seattle free-agent fullback Leonard Weaver.
Free agent CB Karl Paymah visited the Vikings Friday at Winter Park and wasn’t planning on staying overnight. The Broncos free agent has been criss-crossing the country over the last two weeks meeting with teams about potential job opportunities.
Another cornerback who is likely to become available next week is Ravens veteran Samari Rolle. Rolle is expected to get his release from the team Monday.
Another cornerback the Vikings were interested in, free agent Chris Carr, has agreed to a two-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, according to ESPN.