Less than 15 months ago, Tarvaris Jackson was looking to fulfill the promise that had eluded him during his NFL career. Drafted as the quarterback of the future in 2006, he had just one full season as a starter in 2007. When he struggled early in 2008 and the Vikings started 0-2, he was replaced by veteran Gus Frerotte, who played until he broke down and collapsed late in the season.
Then 2009 was supposed to be a season of redemption. Granted, the team had traded for Sage Rosenfels to provide competition, but the conventional wisdom was that it was T-Jack's job to lose. He was going to get his chance to become the starter once again and prove to his critics that he could get the job done as an NFL starter despite claims to the otherwise, which said that the Vikings would be a Super Bowl contender if not for the QB position.
Then came Brett Favre. Everybody took a step backward on the depth chart. Jackson fell to No. 2. Rosenfels moved to No. 3. John David Booty moved out the door. Jackson was the No. 2 quarterback, but given Favre's ironman streak, being the No. 2 QB on a Favre-led team was like being the backup shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles when Cal Ripken was on his own record-breaking games-played streak.
Jackson got his first glimmer of hope to return to the starting lineup last week when it was announced that Favre had two broken bones in his foot to go with a significant ankle problem that has limited his mobility since he had surgery in May and elbow tendinitis that has bothered him the last month. However, Favre kept the streak intact and, once again, Jackson believes he is back to his role as the No. 2 QB in the offense, despite taking first-team snaps almost all of the last two weeks in practice.
"Yeah, I guess so," said Jackson when asked if he's going back to the No. 2 spot heading into Sunday's game. "It hasn't been said, but I expect it."
Jackson said he thought there was the potential he could start last week against New England, but Favre's recuperative powers kept Jackson on the sidelines. However, he said he was ready when the call came and watched like everyone else when Favre went down and stayed down against the Pats.
"When he first went down, I thought he was going to get up," Jackson said. "He actually did get up and kind of fell back down. I just had to make sure I was warmed up and in the game to execute the plays."
Jackson furiously warmed up on the sideline to loosen up his arm, but said he was mentally ready to go even before Favre went down because he knew it was a possibility that every time Favre dropped back to pass, he could take the hit that would knock him out of the game.
"I was telling myself the whole game to just stay ready, even though I didn't start the game," Jackson said. "I kept telling myself, ‘Stay ready, stay ready, stay ready' and my chance came."
Jackson has been no stranger to being in that sort of position as the QB understudy. He had to come into four games in 2008 when Frerotte was knocked out of action. The veteran returned on three of those occasions, but, when he went down against Detroit on Dec. 7, 2008, it was a day that would live in infamy. Jackson tore up the Cardinals for four touchdowns and had the job for the rest of the season. He also threw passes in six games last year, but those were in a mop-up role when Favre and the Vikings had a big enough lead to sit the veteran.
Jackson said that experience has kept him prepared because, from the outset, it was clear Frerotte was fragile and at the end of his career and that, in his 20th season, Favre's body is breaking down as well.
"Both of those guys were pretty old," Jackson joked. "We understand the dynamic of the league. There's always the possibility that the starter is going to go down. You see it all the time around the league. Teams have to have more than one quarterback who can play because you never know when it's going to happen."
Jackson has been on the other side of that equation. Despite posting an 8-4 record in his only season as the full-time starter, he missed four games after suffering a leg injury in Detroit early, injuring his throwing hand when hitting it on a helmet against Dallas and suffering a concussion against the Chargers that knocked him out again for another game.
"I got banged up when I was starting," Jackson said. "Quarterbacks take a lot of shots and most of the shots you take you aren't protecting yourself. You have to be ready (as the backup) at all times."
As the Vikings get ready for Arizona on Sunday, Favre is expected to add regular-season start No. 293 to his streak and Jackson will be back on the sideline with a headset and a ball cap watching the action from a distance. It's not what he wants, but he said that, over the last two seasons, it is something he has grown too familiar with.
"To be honest, I've learned to get used to my role," Jackson said. "I haven't started since the (2008) playoff game against Philly, so my preparation for games has been pretty much the same the last two years. You know you won't be starting, but you have to prepare like you will because you never know when you're going to have to come in. You're only one big hit on Brett away from going out there, so I'm staying prepared if that happens and I'm needed."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Jackson still at ready if needed
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