The return of Tarvaris Jackson can at best be described as baby steps. He went from not being outdoors for a couple of days to being spotted on an exercise bike to being seen on the sidelines to throwing the ball Tuesday to ball boys and cornerbacks while the rest of the team practiced.
With Jackson losing time he could use to get his timing down with his receivers, this is just the latest setback in a career beset, befallen and besotted with injuries. When viewed in its entirety, it may explain why the Vikings were quick to add Sage Rosenfels in the offseason.
Jackson suffered his first NFL injury prior to taking his first official NFL snap. He missed a month during the season after suffering a knee injury during practice. His progress was pushed back, despite him getting the chance to start his rookie season’s final two games. That was no small achievement, since the only Vikings rookie quarterbacks to ever start a game were Fran Tarkenton and Tommy Kramer. Both of them were known for staying on the field and being a reliable starter. They finished what they started. Jackson has never had that chance.
In 2007, it was supposed to be all T-Jack, all the time. Brad Johnson had been shipped out and, so as not to give Jackson reason to gaze over his shoulder, brought in the comedy team of Kelly & Brooks (non-stage names Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger). Jackson was praised as the next big thing. He had put his toe in the water. Now it was time to dive in. His plate was set.
The ironic part was that, by Jackson’s admission, prior to his freak practice injury, he had never had a serious football injury. His detractors lay claim to that announcement as something that was a precursor of things to come. Jackson started the first two games of the 2007 season and, about the only thing worse than him throwing four interceptions against lowly Detroit, was that he pulled a groin muscle and was sidelined. Fortunately for Jackson, the bye week was early (Week 5), so his three weeks sidelined meant he only missed two games. The train could still stay on the tracks.
In his second game back, about the only thing worse than him completing just of six of 19 passes against the Dallas Cowboys was that he hit his throwing thumb on a helmet and had to be held out the next week against Philadelphia. He came back the following week against San Diego, but suffered a concussion that knocked him out of action for the following week. He played the final seven games of the season but threw five interceptions in two games (vs. Chicago and Washington) that were both on national prime-time television. With the spotlight shining, the national press questioned whether Jackson could truly be the answer.
Jackson supporters will remind you that the Vikings were 8-4 in the games Jackson started. They fail to mention that Adrian Peterson may have had a little to do with at least one or two of those wins and that the defense wasn’t too shabby. What the numbers did prove, however, is that a two-drink minimum was required to watch a show by Kelly & Brooks, who combined to go 0-4 in the games they started. They were both booked to do their act on a Princess Cruise ship and Jackson was again the last man standing.
Act III started much like Act II did last season. Jackson gets the action and yet another aging QB – played by venerable character actor Gus Frerotte – gets to watch. Jackson’s injury history yet again scuttled that plan. As in both his previous seasons, Jackson’s progression as a QB was postponed. This time courtesy of Ray Lewis in the preseason. He chased down a scrambling Jackson and gave him a postseason hit in August. Jackson strained his ACL and was lost for the preseason. He missed valuable time getting to know his new receivers, especially free-agent signee Bernard Berrian, and wasn’t at the same level of readiness for the regular season as his teammates.
Although the starting job was clearly still his, it was just as clear his leash was tighter than ever. After just two games, claiming he didn’t like something in “the look” of Jackson’s eyes, Brad Childress not only announced a change of quarterbacks, he said the switch to Frerotte would be for the rest of the season. That plan got cut short due to Frerotte’s NFL warranty clearly being void and being knocked down and staying down so many times that trainer Eric Sugarman was getting more TV face time than Lindsay Lohan. The last time he crumbled, Jackson got the job back. He had the game of his life in his first start against Arizona, made plays in a loss to Atlanta, but went downhill quickly after that.
Act IV started a week ago. With the Favre cloud drifting away, Jackson was back in the same spot he was at the first day of the offseason program. He was the starter until he lost his job. This time, however, he was going to be challenged. The other guys knew their role – T-Jack starts ‘til we say he don’t. It was different with Rosenfels. He would have to outperform this guy to keep his job. He might even be the underdog. What happens? Two days in, Jackson suffers another freakish injury and his timetable is set back.
In the final year of his rookie contract, Jackson has been given numerous chances to say the starting QB job is his. Injuries or ineffectiveness have prevented him from being able to make that claim. His latest setback is, in the terms of medical people, minor. But there is nothing about the timing of the injury that is minor. He has lost valuable time and given the new guy a chance to build the confidence of his receivers. You have to wonder how Jackson could perform over a 16-game season from start to finish. We may never know.
According to the Pioneer Press, the NFL disapproved the contract signed by Percy Harvin, a five-year deal worth up to $14.5 million, with $8.5 million in guarantees. The matter isn’t expected to keep Harvin off the practice field, because both sides have agreed to the framework of the contract and something will have to be revised. The league disapproves contracts if it finds language or terms that violate one of the rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league will give the Vikings and Harvin’s agent Joel Segal an opportunity to iron out the agreement to bring the contract into CBA compliance.
Visanthe Shiancoe is earning his stripes this training camp, which is a far cry from a year ago at this time. Every year, the media types that swarm around the field pass the time during stretching drills pondering who will be the “surprise cut” of the preseason. Last year, Shiancoe was getting his share of votes. He hadn’t produced the offense Brad Childress vowed he could. But that changed last year, as he caught seven touchdowns in the final 14 games. Despite having a leg injury that was clearly visible Tuesday, Shiancoe didn’t miss practice, prompting Childress to say, “You would have to stick him in a straightjacket for him not to come out to practice. That’s an evolution because his first year, he would have stayed inside. I think he has learned what it means to be the lead dog at the tight end position.”
On Aug. 18, the NFL will release a five-DVD set of the Vikings greatest games, which for some reason includes the Dec. 28 win last year against the New York Giants B-team. Hey, a division title-clinching game is good, but in the 50-year history of the franchise, that is one of the five greatest games they have video of? What makes it worse is that Tuesday, the NFL released a set of the Philadelphia Eagles greatest games. But that set has 10 DVDs. If there is anything such as DVD envy, the Vikings might have a case to begrudge the Eagles. Perhaps the NFL should look at marketing more of the surviving game films of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. There is sure to be a market for it and the profits could go to the former players who so desperately could use a financial assist from the NFL big shots of today.
It isn’t a good start to the preseason for other rookie wide receivers. Darrius Heyward-Bey has been injured and, when he does get on the field, he drops passes for the Raiders. Kenny Britt of the Titans has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and falling behind his teammates.