Vikings notebook

Jackson ready to go; rookie right tackle likely to start; injury update

The Vikings still might be alive in the NFC playoff picture, but it appears as if the future will start Thursday night for Minnesota.

That is when rookie Tarvaris Jackson will make his first NFL start for the Vikings in a prime-time game against Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Granted, it will be aired on the NFL Network so not everyone will be able to watch, but there certainly will be plenty of focus on the second-round pick from Division I-AA Alabama State as he takes over for veteran Brad Johnson.

"I have high expectations for him, and he's prepared," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "He' ready to go at this point."

The decision comes with few risks for a 6-8 Vikings team that has been offensively challenged throughout Childress' first season as coach/offensive coordinator and is in definite need of a spark.

Jackson could be just the guy to provide it in the final two games of the regular season. Unlike Johnson, Jackson has a strong arm and great mobility. His presence on the field will force opposing defenses to change how they approach the Vikings.

"I'm ready," Jackson said. "I've been waiting my whole life just to play football period."

There is little doubt Jackson's teammates will rally around a young player who seems to be respectful of his veteran teammates and is well liked in the locker room.

Jackson was among those who stood up for Johnson on Sunday after Vikings fans continually booed the latter during a 26-13 loss to the New York Jets at the Metrodome. It was late in the third quarter of that game that Childress decided to grant the fans their wish and insert Jackson in place of Johnson.

Jackson was greeted with a standing ovation and even received applause when he threw a ball out of bounds that was caught by Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Jackson acknowledged that was a bit bizarre, but it merely signified how starved Vikings fans were to see the quarterback of the future.

While Jackson's late-season run certainly will be a honeymoon period, it also will be interesting to see if Childress makes the necessary adjustments to take advantage of the youngster's skills.

It's not a given that will happen.

Childress has appeared overmatched for much of this season in his play-calling and Johnson has taken the brunt of the criticism because of this. Certainly, Childress should have more options of what he can do with Jackson under center. The key will be for the coach to pull the trigger and allow Jackson some freedom. It also will be instrumental for Childress to tolerate mistakes.

This won't be easy.

Johnson's 15 interceptions this season have driven Childress crazy. No coach likes turnovers but Childress so despises them that he seems to make his players uptight with the ball at times.

With Jackson at quarterback, Childress is either going to have to back off or risk ruining the rookie's confidence in a hurry. Jackson is raw and remains somewhat of a project. He threw an interception in the Jets game and Childress addressed it in his postgame comments with his usual disdain.

This isn't going to work -- at least not for the end of 2006. If Jackson turns over the ball, whether via interception or fumble, on Thursday night, Childress is going to have to swallow hard and remember he is the one who made the decision to look to the future.

It will be up to him to accept everything that comes with that decision.

PLAYER NOTES
Rookie right tackle Ryan Cook has gone from being inactive the first 10 games, to being used in an occasional rotation system with veteran Mike Rosenthal to now being the starter.

Cook, a surprise second-round pick out of New Mexico, played all but one series last Sunday against the Jets and figures to remain in the starting role against the Packers.

Cook's ascension up the depth chart has been a surprise, considering the former college center was considered a project by most. While Cook has risen up the ranks, former starting right tackle Marcus Johnson now finds himself on the inactive list.

Johnson started the first 10 games before suffering a sprained left ankle in a Nov. 19 loss at Miami. He hasn't been able to get back on the field since even though he is completely recovered.

-- C Matt Birk, LG Steve Hutchinson and DL Kevin Williams were the three Vikings picked to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Injury update
-- CB Cedric Griffin missed a second consecutive day of practice Tuesday because of a neck stinger that has bothered him for several weeks. He is listed as doubtful for Thursday's game and could be replaced by veteran Fred Smoot as the starter at right corner. That would mean Ronyell Whitaker will play in the nickel.

-- QB Brooks Bollinger is questionable because of a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury. He has been the Vikings' third quarterback the past two weeks because of the injury.

-- WR Travis Taylor is questionable because of an ankle injury that he suffered Sunday against the Jets.

-- TE Jeff Dugan is listed as probable because of a knee injury and is certain to play.

-- LB Napoleon Harris continues to be probable on the injury report because of a dislocated left wrist that has required him to wear a cast since he returned Nov. 19 at Miami.

-- RB Chester Taylor played last Sunday despite bruised ribs and then tweaked his wrist in the loss to the Jets. Taylor, who only had 11 carries, said he's fine and ready to go Thursday. He is listed as probable.

-- QB Tarvaris Jackson, who will get his first NFL start Thursday, is listed as probable because of a knee injury. Jackson, though, appears to be fine.

-- NT Pat Williams continues to be listed as probable because of a knee injury that has yet to slow him down.

-- DT Kevin Williams is listed as probable because of a shoulder injury.

-- WR Marcus Robinson, who leads the Vikings with four touchdown receptions, was inactive against the Jets because coach Brad Childress said the veteran had a hip-flexor injury. Indications, however, are that Robinson could have played and Childress chose to sit him. There has been no word on whether Robinson will get back in the lineup Thursday. He is listed as probable.

-- DL Spencer Johnson has a high left ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve Tuesday. The Vikings activated receiver Martin Nance from the practice squad to take Johnson's roster spot and signed offensive linemen Jimmy Martin to the practice squad.


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