Tarvaris Jackson wasn't supposed to be ready this early. He was supposed to just sit back and learn this year, and possibly pick up some mop-up duty. This was supposed to be the year when golden boy Matt Jones took the reins at QB and led the Hogs to glory while rewriting the record books and securing his place in history. Well there may have been a change in plans.
Apparently Jackson, who hails from Montgomery, Alabama, isn't much for waiting his turn, because he upstaged both Jones and sophomore Ryan Sorahan with a very impressive spring. Not only did Jackson complete 25 of 45 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception over the five spring scrimmages, but he also led his red squad to a victory over Jones and Sorahan's white team in the red-white game.
Standing at 6-3, 225 pounds and sporting 4.6 speed, Jackson is an impressive physical specimin, but it is his almost freakish arm strength that has people talking. With a tight spiral and unparallelled velocity, a Jackson pass looks almost like a Randy Johnson fastball. If Jackson can continue to show the accuracy and decision making that he displayed in the spring, he will be a hard man to keep off of the field. For now though, he's got to deal with me, in the hot seat for a little Q & A.
Nathan Striegler: How did you end up being a Razorback?
Tarvaris Jackson: During the whole recruiting process, Coach Vaughn and all the other coaches really kept it real with me. They didn't down talk the other programs to make them sound better. I came up here on my visit and I really like the atmosphere. Everyone was nice to me. I felt like I was at home.
NS: You and De'Arrius Howard were roommates, right?
TJ: We were. In the summer we have to move off campus. We were actually going to stay with his brother in his apartment, but you know, he passed away.
NS: What kind of bond formed between you guys because of that incident?
TJ: I was in my room and I heard him crying real late at night so I went up to see what was wrong. He said my brother isn't going to make it. I told him he was strong and that he was going to make it. I kept thinking it couldn't be true because we had just hung out with his brother a few weeks before that. He (De'Arrius) came in the next morning, crying, and told me that his brother had died. We talked about his brother and we got real close from that situation.
NS: How much would it mean for you to step under center with De'Arrius lined up behind you in the backfield this season?
TJ: That would mean a lot. We came in together. We went through the redshirt season together, and we've been through a lot. I would love to see him back there, not only because of what he went through, but also because he's working so hard. In the spring he came back and did good after his brother's death and I think he's ready to do good this year. We really just want to win though.
NS: You've developed a rep for throwing the ball with some heat. Do the receivers ever complain about you hurting them?
TJ: They don't really complain. I know that I throw the ball too hard sometimes, but I really don't think you can throw the ball too hard unless you're real close. I've got to learn how to throw those with a certain touch. I don't think the receivers care as long as the ball gets there on time.
NS: Is that something you've always had?
TJ: Ever since I've been in junior high coaches have always said they didn't care how it got there, just so long as it got there. I've always thrown the ball hard. My high school coach tried to teach me timing and touch but I never really had to do it. But now I'm forced to do it because DB's are so much faster and so much better.
NS: Last year the first game of the season, everything is going wrong offensively, and all of the sudden you're thrust into the game. What was going on in your mind at that point?
TJ: At the time I couldn't really believe it, because I hadn't really been practicing and I didn't really expect to play. We had Zak (Clark), (Ryan) Sorahan, and Gerald Howard. That's three quarterbacks and I thought there was no way in the world I was going to get in the game. So, I'm on the sideline just enjoying watching the game and trying to learn. Then coach told me to warm my arm up and I started asking the other quarterbacks what it was like and trying to get my mind right and then throws me into the game. My heart was beating so fast. Everything just went by so fast and before I knew it I was back over there chillin' on the sidelines.
NS: Was the speed the most difficult change for you to deal with?
TJ: Speed was definitely one aspect, but most of it was mental. Coaches tell you that like eighty percent of the game is mental. You can be the strongest and fastest person out there but if you don't know what you're doing then you're not going to do anything. I was fortunate enough to have a really good coach in high school. He was the quarterback at Clemson. We had a brand new offense my senior year and he forced me to learn what everybody had to do. So now it's kinda natural for me to know what everybody is doing on the field. I listen to the offensive line coach and all the coaches when they are talking.
NS: Who do you consider to be a great leader?
TJ: George Wilson is a great leader. He works hard every day and you know he's a team player. He's always giving everybody a pep talk and he always seems to do what's right. I look up to him because he's such a hard worker. When I first came up here I stayed with him and Eddie Jackson so they were the first couple of people that I got to know.
NS: A shoulder injury put you out last season after seeing limited duty and you ended up being granted a medical hardship year. Do you think down the road that you will look at that as something that really was a blessing?
TJ: I think it helped me a lot. I was able to get a little bit of experience especially against Alabama. It gave me a chance to get a taste of the speed of the game. I threw an interception in that game so you know I learned from that. The UNLV game taught me a lot. It showed me that you've got to always be ready. Going into the spring I realized that maybe it wasn't going to be quite as hard as I thought it was.
NS: I'm sure you're sick of hearing about the whole quarterback carousel this year. How do you guys manage to not be at each other's throats, knowing that you're competing for the same job?
TJ: We don't look at it like everybody else looks at it. We look at it as everybody just trying to get the job done as a team. We compete for the same position, but we're still trying to win the national championship and I think it's going to take all three of us to do that. Coach Lee always says, "You never know when one quarterback is going to go down. You've got to have three quarterbacks ready to play." If Ryan and Matt can get the job done better than I can then they need to be in. I don't want to hurt the team. Whoever can get the job done best, is the one who should be starting.
NS: For some reason people have this idea that you can't run. Is that because they compare you to Matt?
TJ: I don't expect to be able to run the ball like Matt, because he's just different. He's fast. I think I use my speed to the best of my ability. I run pretty strong and I think I run smart. I can break a couple of tackles and I've got a couple of moves in me. It's not all about speed. I'm not a running quarterback but I can run the ball when I have to. I feel comfortable with the option. I ran the option some in high school. I didn't run the midline but I ran like the 18 and 19 lead options. So it's no problem for me.
NS: Is it true that some schools where actually recruiting you to play linebacker?
TJ: The in-state schools like Alabama where. I think they were kinda trying to trick me. They would say, "We want you as a quarterback but if you don't make it at quarterback then maybe you'd like to move to a defensive position." Auburn wanted me to play linebacker for them too. I didn't really take any offense to it though. They were just recruiting. I'm happy that they did they did that because I'm happy being here anyway.
NS: Do they give you trouble when you go back home?
TJ: When I go back home I see a lot of Alabama and Auburn fans. They have like an Alabama and an Auburn store. I went in there with an Arkansas shirt on and I was like, "Ya'll need to put some of this in your store." I cannot find an Arkansas hat anywhere in Alabama. People that I know are all either Auburn or Alabama. They all tell me they want me to do good, but not against them.
NS: Do you have a special connection with any of the receivers?
TJ: I can't really tell right now. When George went down it was pretty big. Everybody can get on the same page with George because he's such a good receiver. He runs good routes and he's always open. I'm not gonna say that I don't have a favorite receiver, but my receivers will never know who it is. Whoever is open is my favorite.
NS: What is your greatest fear?
TJ: Not succeeding in life. I think about that all the time. Somebody asked me the other day what I would do if I don't go to the NFL. I know I'm going to get my education right here, but I don't really know where I want to be after that. I guess I really just don't want to let my momma down. That's my biggest fear. She says I could never let her down, but I really want to take care of her. She works real hard and one of my main objectives is to help her one day.
NS: What do you want to accomplish?
TJ: I want to be starting quarterback before I leave. Team leader. I want to be someone that my teammates can count on, on and off of the field. I want to be an All-SEC quarterback. I want to be an All-American. Everybody wants to be that. I think I've got the right coaches to do it. I want us to win the national championship from hear on out, and then I'll go play quarterback for the Cowboys. Quincy Carter is one of my favorite quarterbacks and he plays for them.
NS: They are finally starting to get rid of all the felons on that team. Did you see any good movies this summer?
TJ: I watched Like Mike and Juwanna Man.
NS: You didn't see Spider Man?
TJ: Everybody was trying to get me to go see it but I didn't want to see it because it's a kid's movie.
NS: So Like Mike (Starring Little Bow Wow as a 14 year-old dominating the NBA because of some magic shoes) isn't a kid's movie?
TJ: I guess you're right.
NS: What is the biggest challenge for you? What do you need to improve on?
TJ: My flexibility. My accuracy. Arm strength. You can improve on anything. I just want to improve every aspect of my game.
NS: It seems like every year, people ending up questioning certain positions, because of lack of talent or experience. Is that motivation?
TJ: That's motivation for me. I don't take it too seriously but if you look at how they've got us ranked in some of the preseason books, some of them have us at like 53. We played in the Cotton Bowl and we've got all this coming back and they've got us at 53?
That shows how little people respect us. We're going to go out there and prove to the world that we can play. We've just got to put everything together and once we do, there's gonna be no stopping us.