Jackson's Make or Break Game

The future of Tarvaris Jackson and the quarterback position may well hinge on how Jackson performs in his home debut Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

With the Vikings out of playoff contention, many believe that Sunday's New Year's Eve game with the Rams will have little in the way of drama or meaning. But for Tarvaris Jackson and the Vikings' front office, this game could be critical to the Vikings for 2007 and beyond.

Jackson, who numbers were bad in his debut with 50 yards passing, was part of an offense that set a franchise low with three first downs. It actually had some fans missing Brad Johnson, but Jackson will get one more chance to play in a real NFL game before next year's training camp. Between now and then, the Vikings will have to make the decision whether the future is now or if it gets put on hold for another year as the team brings a veteran quarterback back for next season.

"I'm looking at it as a chance to get better and just show coach that I can improve each week," Jackson said. "That's pretty much it. Just show my teammates that I can play, even though it's different in the game. They probably see at practice that I can play, but it's a lot different in the game. It's just a chance to go out there and just have fun and play football."

It seems clear that at age 38, Brad Johnson likely isn't going to be the answer for next season. Although the team could bring him back for another season, it's doubtful the organization would go into another season with Johnson coming in as the unquestioned starter. If Jackson stinks it up Sunday, there may be the inclination to bring in a veteran who can hold the reigns for a year – or the better part of the 2007 season – before turning the offense over to Jackson.

Among the names that have made it on the rumor wire are Drew Bledsoe, Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia and Jake Plummer. While Jackson appears to be the long-term answer, the Vikings made the mistake of not having a proven veteran backup this season and, when Johnson struggled badly, the team had nowhere to go. First, Brad Childress was convinced career slug Mike McMahon could get the job done. Then came Brooks Bollinger. Drew Henson even got a shot at trying to jump-start his career.

If Jackson can make a good accounting of himself Sunday, the Vikings might ignore the temptation of getting a proven veteran like Garcia for a one-year deal and rise or fall with their youngster. When he was drafted back in April, Brad Childress and others freely admitted that he was green and needed some time to be effective. Many believed that timetable would stretch into some or all of the 2007 season. Now that timetable has been altered. If Jackson has a big game Sunday, it could be his launching pad to being a starter when the 2007 season opens. If not, the Vikings might be active in the free agent quarterback market when it opens in a little more than two months.

FRIDAY NOTES
* It looks as though Charles Gordon will move into the starting spot at corner ahead of Ronyell Whitaker for the spot vacated by injuries to Cedric Griffin and Fred Smoot. Safety Dwight Smith is also expected to see some time at cornerback.
* Of all the signings and contract extensions the Vikings have given their starters in 2006, one name conspicuous by its absence is that of linebacker Napoleon Harris. Despite playing much of the season with a wrist injury, Harris has career highs in interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles and ranks third on the team with 85 tackles. However, with the team taking Chad Greenway in the first round of this year's draft, signing Ben Leber to a big free agent deal and extending E.J. Henderson's contract, there doesn't look to be the money to sign Harris to a long-term deal.
* The Vikings added running back Wendell Mathis to the 53-man roster Thursday, filling in the vacated spot left when both Griffin and Smoot were placed on I.R.
* Bollinger, Chris Kluwe and Troy Williamson were all upgraded from questionable to probable Thursday on the team's injury report.

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