Tarvaris Jackson has seen or heard some of the criticism and questions national football writers have about his prospects for the coming season. However, Jackson has been focusing on his own assessments and the feedback he has gotten from his coaches this offseason.
"It doesn't matter how good you are, you are going to always have guys that don't like you or whatever. I really don't listen to that stuff," Jackson said Wednesday upon checking into the Vikings' practice facility at Minnesota State, Mankato. "Guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, they've got guys that aren't big Peyton Manning fans and Tom Brady fans. It really doesn't matter what everybody says. I just want to get out here and just prove to myself and my teammates and my coaches that I can win football games. That's it."
The opinions on Jackson are many, but those coming from outside the organization largely focus on his inexperience at the NFL level. But with Jackson and head coach Brad Childress, it is a maturing process for the quarterback who started only two games in his rookie season.
First, there was speculation about his ability to read blitzes and make decisive and correct decisions based off those blitzes.
"We've got to do a better job of recognizing the blitz, but it's a lot different when you game-plan for a certain team," Jackson said in June following a practice in which the team worked on blitzing and picking up the blitz. "You kind of know what's coming and know what they all bring. Sometimes they bring a different wrinkle, but it's different going into a game because you prepare for that team off of what they've shown in previous weeks.
"That was just a practice where we didn't know what blitzes they were going to run. It was kind out of the blue, out of left field. It happens sometimes, so we've just got to get better. I can handle it better, I can say that – just know who is coming and what I have as far as my blitz answers."
In fact, that was just one practice in a series of different situations the coaching staff put him in during months of offseason practices.
"What we're doing right now is we're putting him in different situations. We've given him an opportunity to face the blitz, put him in some short-yard, some short third-down situations, some longer third-down situations, some third-and-ones," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "… It's just giving him an opportunity to be immersed in every part of the offense, get one look at it and just to start getting a rep at each part of the offense so when we carry it over to training camp he will continue to make leaps and bounds. We've gone back and forth; we've done third down a couple times, we've done blitz a couple times and you can see the improvement just within those drills. The first time we threw a number of guys at him he didn't know exactly where to put his eyes, and the next time he improved greatly. He has done a nice job each and every time. So we're just trying to immerse him in as many situations as we can."
According to Childress, facing the blitz successfully from the quarterback position is mostly about making quick and correct decisions.
"When you start to get in your third-and-medium and higher distances, people have a tendency now to blitz zone you or blitz you and you have to handle that," Childress said. "They are trying to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly and force a quick decision, so that's always the thing as I mentioned that you have to ramp up. You have to ramp up the quickness of your decision, and those are tough things to face."
Jackson entered the league as a relative unknown, coming from Alabama State, but his physical abilities – especially his strong arm and athleticism – were quickly apparent. Yet physical abilities only go so far in the NFL, and Jackson needed to improve in other aspects of his game since last season.
In 2006, he played in four games, starting the final two of the season. While his statistics – 47 of 81 passing for 475 yards, two TDs and four INTs for a 62.5 rating – were far from fancy, he believes he has already made some strides since last year.
"Just recognizing coverages and knowing where everybody is on the field, getting into my reads a lot quicker and just recognizing and using my eyes and just using my head more instead of knowing that I'm going to go to this guy – reading through the defense and just taking what the defense gives me," he said.
If he can accomplish that, he will gain the trust of his teammates, something that he said is important to him.
"It's just not all about, OK, just come out here and earn the spot," he said. "Of course that's what I want to do, but I just want to get better each day and show my teammates I can take us out there every weekend and we'll have a chance to win, and have the guys believe in me that, OK, we're going to win this game. Not, ‘I don't know what this young guy is going to do' or whatever. I just want the guys to believe in me."
So far, he said the team hasn't been holding back on the installation process just because they have a young quarterback that is expected to assume the starting role. He says he is ready for the responsibilities that go with that position.
"Naturally, I'm a leader anyways. So I'm not trying to come out here and explain myself as a leader," he said. "I'm just trying to lead by example and work hard every day."
Jackson Outlines Progress, Goals
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